Exercise 5.0 – Sonata Form

The sonata form describes the structure of the first movements of sonatas or symphonies, written in the classical period. One can divide it into the following three parts:

  • Exposition: The first part provides the thematic material of the movement. The first presented theme, also called “first subject” is normally written in the tonic key. Between the first subject and the second subject there is often a transition part which connects the two themes. The second subject follows either in a related major/ minor key, or the dominant.
  • Development: Here the composers work with the themes which were presented in the Exposition. This part of the Sonata form varies and is dependent on the composer. Normally the themes are altered to create different effects.
  • Recapitulation: This part can be seen as a slightly altered version of the Exposition. The piece moves back to the first subject in the tonic key. One important difference to the Exposition is, that the second subject is also presented in the main key signature.
  • (Coda): In some cases, composers added the “coda”, which concludes the movement. The themes used are often taken from the development.

Execise 5.1.

In the score below I marked the appearances of new themes, the bars in which they start, as well as colours are described as follows:

  • Bars 1 and 79 (red): Start of the first subject
  • Bars 26 and 98 (green): Start of second subject
  • Bars 13 and 87 (blue): Start of transitions between the subjects
  • Bar 45 (no colour): Start of Development

These four parts are the main ones of the piece, therefore,  having a closer look, one can find smaller themes within them. As there are technically quite a few themes to keep apart I only made note of the easily recognisable ones. I furthermore also counted parts to the same theme, which had the same amount of notes and rhythm:

  • Theme a (yellow): Bars 1; 26; 28; 29; 38; 79; 98; 99
  • Theme b (orange): Bars 2; 46;47; 68 – 73; 80; 85 – 90
  • Theme c (turquoise): Bars 3; 42; 78; 81; 82; 94
  • Theme d (pink): Bars 4 – 6; 45; 83 – 85
  • Theme e (purple): Bars 7 – 12; 46 – 48, 68 – 73;
  • Theme f (grey): Bars 18 – 20; 28; 29; 59 – 63; 90 – 93

A noted in my listening log, the key signature changes several times:

  • From bar 1 to 13 the piece is in its tonic key (C – major)
  • Until bar 26 the key can’t be defined as sharps as well as flats are used.
  • Moving to the Dominant G major for the second subject
  • The development consists of the key signatures a-minor (45 to ~ 56), a modulation (57 to 63), E – major (64 to 73), and e – minor (74 – 79).

Apart from the start of the modulation all the key changes started with a variation of the first theme.

Even though I didn’t mark all of it I generally noticed, that most of the material Haydn used for the whole movement came just from the themes from the first 5 bars. Especially often he seemed to be using the interval of a minor third, which is the first interval of the piece.

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Exercise 5.2 First 30 bars

Having a closer look at the first few bars of the “Emperor” one can notice several things:

  • The first subject (bars 1 – 13) provides two cheery and strong question answer motifs within the first 4 bars, especially the dotted 16th notes (b. 5) makes the music move forward quicker.
  • At the beginning of the transition (bars 13 – 26) one can already see the occasional use of F-sharp (which is used for the key G in the second subject following). The transition repeats the first subject, creates a short longing character with some longer notes and starts using the pedal point “D” in the bass to create tension and indicate that the second subject is about to start.
  • The second subject is similar to the second bar. Tension is created by the second violin and Viola, who play fast 16th notes in order to create chords to accompany the melody from the first violin.

Exercise 5.3. Reflection on analysing „The Emporer”

I found it really interesting to analyse the first movement of the “Emperor”. From my previous musical education, I already knew about the sonata form, but hadn’t had a chance to take a closer look at a piece involving it. I especially enjoyed working on exercise 5.1 (above) and was surprised by how often a theme (even if it only consists of two notes) can be used in a piece without it becoming boring. I also found it fascinating to see the huge contrast to Bartok’s string quartet, which firstly didn’t seem to have any structure.  I personally would also have enjoyed to take a closer look at the Recapitulation of the “Emperor”. I would have focused on the transition part to see whether it is similar to the one from the Exposition, even without a change of key.

I think, as a musician, it is really important to analyse the music one is interested in. As a performer one could find it easier to recognise patterns repeating themselves, and might even be able to simplify several notes to a chord. When not performing, one can still find out (as it was the case with this piece) that the composer wouldn’t have just used any notes, but really could have developed simple ideas to a whole symphony, these “ideas” (or themes) may even consist of just one short theme (For example Beethoven’s 5th, or the “Jaws” theme). Furthermore, studying a composition helps to discover and understand patterns, which could be helpful for own compositions.

As already mentioned Haydn seems to be using the material he provided within the first 4 bars throughout the whole piece. The only theme in addition to those bars are the dotted semi-quavers starting in bar 5, which seem to lead the piece forward. There is a special focus on the first interval (minor third); most motifs of the development, and transitions start with it.

One part standing out with its new structure is the one starting in bar 64, were the cello and bass play long notes in fifths, which makes it sound similar to a folksong.

As the piece is generally really fast moving and always involves tension, another unusual part starts in bar 108, where all the voices play long, soft notes before starting with the second subject again.

Excercise 5.4 Second movement of the “Emperor”

The name of the whole piece comes from this movement: The theme with four Cantus-Firmus-Variations comes from a former “Volkslied” (Folk – song), also composed by Haydn. The text from the Folk-song involves the phrase “Gott! Erhalte Franz, den Kaiser” (God, save Francis the Emperor).

As already mentioned in my listening log; the second movement of Haydn’s String Quartett Op.76, is just about one theme played five times in slightly different ways, always with another accompaniment:

  • The first violin starts with the melody. The second violin stays a bit quieter, playing almost all notes at the same time, often a 6th or a 3rd underneath the melody to support it. Viola and cello create a second group playing the counterpoint. This part is generally very slow, the notes are played legato and the main theme can be heard clearly.


  • In the first variation the melody is played by the second violin. The first violin plays the counterpoint, in a mixture of legato and staccato semiquaver notes playing arpeggios. The other two strings don’t play throughout the whole section. Due to the counterpoint the music seems to have a briskly mood.


  • The cello provides the melody for the second variation. This part is mainly in legato again. The syncopes from the first violin work against the melody, whereas the second violin and viola have a bass-function and support the melody harmonically.


  • The third variation surprisingly starts in minor. The viola plays the melody and the other accompanying instruments become more and more chromatic towards the end.



  • The forth variation seems to reflect the first variation with a compact form to show that the piece has come to an end. The first violin plays the melody for the second time.


Exercise 5.5. Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 18, No. 1

For this Exercise I was asked to make a piano arrangement of the first 30 bars of Beethoven’s first String Quartet Op. 18, No. 1.

Beethoven’s first 6 String Quartets Op. 18 were created between 1798 and 1800, when the composer was at the end of his 20s. Around this time String Quartets had just developed to an independent genre. (Research point 5.2).  The pieces were dedicated to the monarch Franz Joseph Maximilian von Lobkowitz. The first performance was at the house of Prince Karl Lichnovsky, who was Beethoven’s sponsor and friend.

Writing the piece, Beethoven particularly put effort into creating a polyphonic sound. At the very beginning of the first movement, which is in sonata form, all four voices play the same 6 note motif unison before moving apart. The motif is then separated and all its parts seem to be jumping around between the voices. As mentioned earlier, all voices in the piece are equally important, therefore the main motif can easily move around without being out-tuned by the other voices. In the second movement Beethoven swapped often between major and minor, the structure of the movement is surprisingly similar to a sonata form again. The mood of the movement is dramatic, creating a contrast to the previous one. The scherzo involves several chromatic movements through which the piece gets a mischievous sounding character. The last movement is traditionally a rondo, Beethoven presents several ideas next to one another and mixes them at the end.

The style of the pieces seemed similar to Haydn’s, as this was Beethoven’s first attempt to write a string quartet. Nevertheless, even though one can notice the influence, one can notice a slight part of Beethoven’s own style, which he fully developed in the following years.

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Piano Arrangement Beethoven Op.18 no 1

Arranging the String Quartet piece was more difficult than I expected. In order to make it look less complicated and easier to play I only used two different voices within one stave if the rhythm was different. As I play the piano myself I particularly looked at the difficult passages at the end to confirm whether they are possible to play.

In bar 19 the first and second violin have the ornament “turn” written out, even though this would have been possible for both voices on the piano, I only put the sign for the ornament above the first voice, as the passage would be technically incredibly difficult otherwise.

It only started to become tricky within the last few bars, as the range of the voices was really far apart and the outer notes couldn’t have been reached. In the very last bar, I for an example hat to put the F from the cello up by an octave to create an F – major chord. The effect created was probably less strong, but still had its “ending” – effect, as the previous chord was C7.

All in all, I think, that a piano arrangement can probably only catch the idea of the composer but not the whole atmosphere of the piece. Even if It were possible to play all the notes in the right octaves the sound of a piano is still completely different and will therefore have a different effect for the audience than initiated by the composer.

1 Kipnis, B. (2002). Ludwig van Beethoven – Quartets op.18. [PDF]. New Zealand: Massey University Wellington Conservatorium of Music. Available at: [Accessed: 21.01.2020]

2 Hufner, M. (1994). Ludwig van Beethoven: Streichquartette op. 18. Musikkritik. [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 21.01.2020]

Exercise 5.6

For this exercise I was asked to highlight the following features of the list below in the development section of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s piano sonata no. 15 in C major.

  • Key of first section
  • Key of second section
  • Circle of fifths, marking on the chords as they change
  • Role swapping in the hands
  • An instance of sequence
  • The cadence in bar 41 (chord IVb to chord V)

In bar 41 I was only able to find chord IV (wich is B-major, leading to F), in its first inversion instead of the second. Even though the F of the chord (Bb – D – F) is missing, the D is in the bass, which normally indicates the first inversion. The following chord is a Cmaj7 leading back to the repetition of theme a in F-major.

Role swapping in the hands always takes place during the scale sequences and are involved in theme 2 and the circle of fifths – movement.


Exercise 5.7

For this exercise I was asked to arrange the development of Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 12 in F major for a string quartet. I played through the whole sonata once to get familiar with its structure, especially focusing on the development section of the first movement.

Even though I was given a suggestion for beginning the piece, I slightly changed the arrangement of the first and second violin due to the following four part harmonies.

The structure of the development can be summarized as follows:

  • The first 16 bars are in C major (The Dominant of F, which is the main key of the sonata)
  • The theme after the C-passage is based on the second section of the second subject.
  • Within the passage of the quaver notes and rests the key changes frequently, moving in a circle of fifths, starting with; C – minor; G – minor; D – minor; A – minor and then back to F-major.

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Exercise 5.8 Consideration of the exercises and research points of this unit

As I am privately really enjoying listening to classical music, I would consider this part of the course as my favourite. Whilst covering and overall understanding of the musical style and social background of the Classical era, the unit mainly focussed on the sonata form used in pieces of the era (mainly piano sonatas and string quartets).

Having had a closer look at the first movement of a handful of pieces gave me a great impression on how composers of the 18th century developed their ideas. Due to the strict rules, usage of the diatonic system and consideration of connected key signatures classical music was probably one of a few musical styles based on a logical system. Endings of phrases can often be predicted and have a fulfilling, satisfying character. I only noticed after having worked through exercise 5.6, that a sequence of a circle of fifths is one of the most common aspects to find in a classical piece of music.

Listening to a few examples of string quartets which weren’t only written within the 18th century got me inspired to write a shorter, simply structured arrangement of my own for a string quartet in classical style aside of the course unit. The piece can viewed under the following link: From all the string quartets I’ve listened to I was exceptionally impressed by Steve Reich’s “Different trains”, which, as it is mentioned in my listening log was rather overwhelming to listen to.

Being a pianist I found it much easier to analyse/ work with the two piano sonatas from exercise 5.6 and 5.7. than with Haydn’s string quartet “The Emperor” from exercise 5.2, which made it nonetheless much more interesting to work with.

The most interesting exercises for me were exercises 5.5 and 5.7, where I was asked to arrange a string quartet for piano and vice versa. Instead of just looking or even playing over the notes once, one really had to focus on every single note as well as the dynamics and other additions to the score. This was helpful for a greater understanding of the structure, it was furthermore easier to discover how the composer used and re-used themes as I often found that most motifs after the first ~ 15 bars are just an alteration of the themes from the beginning.