[Smt-talk] vocal sonata forms

Charles J. Smith cjsmith at buffalo.edu
Sun Oct 16 12:11:03 PDT 2011

Dear Peter et al,

Rosen has a most interesting discussion of the Sextet from Act III of  
Figaro in The Classical Style (in the chapter on Mozart's Comic Opera)  
which draws a brilliant analogy between what we now call sonata-form  
principles and some of the dramatic elements of opera buffa—in  
particular, underlining the tendency of the arrival of the second key- 
area to sound like the entrance onto the stage of a new character (in  
this case, Suzanna). This sextet can easily be heard through the  
filter of sonata form, therefore, even though the development section  
(the resolution of the dramatic conflict, "why is Figaro hugging and  
kissing that woman?") is only 2 measures long.

I'll be curious to see what other examples appear, and won't be  
surprised if there aren't very many. The formal demands of texts tend  
to trump musical form, so texted pieces are much more often worked out  
as musical ternaries or strophes or perhaps even ritornello-like  
organizations. Perhaps only if a text allows the sort of conflict-to- 
reconciliation pattern within a single movement (as in the Sextet)  
will sonata-form be a good musical fit.

Which sounds as if Rosen's opera buffa principles might, when all is  
said and done, most often be manifested in all those thousands of  
classical-era sonata-form movements—in effect, opera without the  


> I'm looking for compositions for voice written in sonata form -  
> either solo voice(s)
> with accompaniment or choir with or without accompaniment.  The only  
> works I've
> been able to find so far are those listed in the Groves entry on  
> sonata form:
> Mozart, "Ah taci ingiusto cora" from Don Giovanni;  Haydn, "With  
> Verdure Clad"
> from The Creation;  Beethoven, Benedictus from Missa Solemnis;  and  
> Brahms, "Ihr
> habt nun Traurigkeit" from the German Requiem.  Does anyone know of  
> any more?
> Thanks!
> Peter Silberman
> Ithaca College
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Charles J. Smith
Slee Chair of Music Theory & Chair of the Department
Department of Music, 220 Baird Hall
University at Buffalo
Buffalo, NY 14260
716-645-0639 [direct line]
716-645-3824 [fax]
cjsmith at buffalo.edu

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