Monday, January 28, 2013

some assembly required

If they sold piano sonatas at IKEA, they would come in a box, and you'd have to put them together yourself. There would also be optimistic hieroglyphs with ambiguous arrows and no written instructions within miles.

Fortunately, navigating today's selection isn't going to be that difficult. But, rather than simply listen to the whole thing at one gulp (even if it is a small gulp), I've divided it into sections, so you'll have to strike the play button each time you want to go on to the next part.

The upside to this is that there will be absolutely no confusion about where a new section begins; when the music gets to the end of one part, it stops until you do something about it. Call it the first interactive piano sonata. It's the latest, greatest thing in piano sonatas, and everything else.

The first part of a sonata has the technical term "Exposition" because that's where the composer launches his musical ideas for the piece. This is divided into two parts. Here is the first one:

Exposition: part one

Now if you take a few seconds to let your head clear before playing this next part, you might come to the conclusion that this next part is rather different--you might even think it is a completely different piece of music. That will depend, partly, on how you heard the "modulation," that is, moving from one key to another. Between the two parts of the exposition the composer moves to a new key, which is a lot like moving to a new location in the physical world. Depending how smoothly the composer does it you might not notice it;other times is is jarring. In either case, there is a new melody and a new rhythmic idea in this part:

Exposition: part two

Now, classical composers are more reasonable human beings than popular mythology might suggest. They know they've given you a lot to absorb, that's why there is always a repeat sign at this point. In order to faithfully reproduce your classical sonata, at this point you need to go back and play both parts of the exposition again (in order). Otherwise, you'll get to the end of your put-it-together-yourself sonata and realize you have a couple of extra pieces left in the box with no idea where they belong, and we wouldn't want that.

Now it's time for the "development" section, in which the composer shows us what sorts of interesting things he or she can do with the ideas from the first section. Notice how many times you keep hearing that little rhythm from the very opening of the piece: the first thing you hear (dumm--dadeeh)--nearly every phrase has at least one of them tucked in there somewhere.


If you are the sort of piece who likes repetition, the "recapitulation" is your thing. At this point in the sonata, we are pretty much through adventuring, and the rest of the piece repeats the first part of the piece again, blow by blow. It is in two parts, just like the "exposition"--two "themes" and in the same order. Here is the first one again. Sound familiar?

Recapitulation: part one

The only difference (and philosophically it is a big one) is that this time we don't go to a new key for the second part. While you were busy listening to the clever ways the composers tossed his themes around in the development, Mr. Haydn was also taking us back to the key we started in so we'd be "home" in time for the last part of the sonata. Now that we're there, we're going to stay there.

Recapitulation: part two

You can catch the difference between these two parts by going back up to the 2nd part of the "exposition" and listening to the first few seconds, then hitting the button for the 2nd part of the recapitulation. The webplayer doesn't mind if you interrupt it; it should start playing the new file right away if the connection is not too slow and the internet gods aren't angry today.

And just like that you have a nice early-classical sonata. Beethoven would later write sonatas that were larger and more complicated, but this one will fit in your den. Next to that plant in the corner.


  1. liked that piece a lot. i could hear when it changed keys but dad couldn't.

  2. That's ok. There's more than one way to figure a sonata out. Like listening for musical 'punctuation' on the ends of musical sentences--something I'll blog about in the future.


I don't bite...mostly.