What is a sonata?

A sonata is piece of instrumental music, usually for a solo instrument, or a small group.

Christina Lawrie plays "Sonata Pathetique", Piano Sonata No. 8 in C Minor by Ludwig Van Beethoven, 1798

Structure and form

In the Classical period (roughly 1750-1810) 'sonata' came to mean a work in several movements, usually three.

Sonata form

The first movement is in a special sonata form made up of:

  • exposition
  • development
  • recapitulation


During the Classical period the harpsichord had been largely replaced by the piano.

Many piano sonatas were written and many composers wrote sonatas for a solo instrument and piano. Violin, cello and flute sonatas were all popular.

Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven all wrote piano sonatas, violin sonatas and cello sonatas.