The word ‘sonata’ comes from the Italian for sounding. The word sonata has taken on various meanings through the different musical periods.
During the Baroque period (roughly 1600–1750) the word ‘sonata’ was used quite loosely meaning a piece to be 'played’ rather than ‘sung’. 'Sonata' was generally applied to small instrumental works. There was no set form or number of movements.
Bach’s sonatas for unaccompanied violin and cello are an important part of the string player’s repertoire.
Domenico Scarlatti wrote over 500 highly original solo sonatas for harpsichord. They are mostly in one movement binary form.
Listen to the opening of Scarlatti’s Sonata in F minor K.466.
The trio sonata was very popular during the Baroque period (roughly 1600–1750). Many Baroque trio sonatas were written for two violins (or recorders, flute or oboe) plus continuo.
The continuo part was played by harpsichord (filling in the harmonies) sometimes with the cello playing the bassline - so there were often four players, not three. The harpsichord is a keyboard instrument where the strings are plucked rather than hammered.
Bach, Handel and Corelli all wrote trio sonatas.
Listen to this extract taken from Handel’s Trio Sonata in F major. Notice the two treble recorders, the contrapuntal texture and the harpsichord continuo.
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