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Sonata Forms (Revised Edition) Paperback – August 17, 1988

4.5 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Everything you always wanted to know about the sonata, but were afraid to ask, answered at surprising length and with copious musical illustrations. Sonatas are generally thought of as being always organized into exposition, development, and recapitulation, but, writes Rosen, "...it is very dubious that a unique sonata form can be so defined even for a single decade of the late eighteenth-century," and he goes on to prove why it can't. Important reading for the serious musician.

About the Author

Charles Rosen, professor of music and social thought at the University of Chicago, has also taught at the State University of New York-Stony Brook and delivered the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard University. His recitals and other performances have won the highest critical acclaim, as have his books, The Classical Style and The Romantic Generation. When he is not concertizing, Rosen lives in New York.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (August 17, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393302199
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393302196
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #225,231 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By klavierspiel VINE VOICE on March 6, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Rosen's book, now in a revised edition, is a follow-up to his classic "Classical Style," and it helps to be acquainted with the earlier work, or at least to be somewhat accustomed to the author's elaborate and occasionally repetitive prose and his habit of illustrating the discussion with copious, lengthy musical examples. The early chapters explain the author's choice of the plural for the title and distinguish his view of the sonata structure as opposed to the single form dictated by nineteenth-century authorities such as Czerny. Particularly interesting, if not altogether coherent, is the attempt to relate the rise of use of sonata principles by composers to the rise in prestige of instrumental music. A couple of chapters on sonata-form predecessors (aria, concerto, other works by early Italians such as Scarlatti and Sammartini) are succeeded by generally lucid discussions on motivic development and the component parts of fully developed sonata form: exposition, development, recapitulation, and coda. The last part of the book examines how sonata structure has continued to influence and at times frustrate post-Classical composers.

If one looks for it, there are brilliant analyses to be found throughout this book, often in unexpected places: a full-scale and fascinating dissection of the first movement of Mozart's great "Prague" Symphony in D major is hidden away in the middle of the "Motif and Function" chapter. Therein lies the major problem of this book for me, in that Rosen, ironically enough in a work about form, seems to have trouble ordering and presenting his ideas in a logical fashion. The chapter on concertos seems intended to illustrate pre-sonata principles, but contradicts its purpose with illustrations mainly from Mozart and his contemporaries.
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Format: Paperback
Sonata form is not quite as dry as it sounds--it's the "plot line" that gives works of the Classical period their drama, even though they're not "about" anything, the way program music is. I find that I enjoy Classical-era works more when I know their form and can keep track of where I am in the piece.
This book goes into sonata form in considerable detail, covering its history, evolution, and variants. It displays the thoughtfulness and insight that Rosen brings to all of his books. It's not an easy read, and I find that it helps to be familiar already with the works under discussion before you read about them. One way to approach the book is to listen to one of the works it discusses several times, until you're quite familiar with it, then come back and read at what Rosen has written on that particular work.
Another bit of advice: don't try this book unless you've already read Rosen's much more famous book _The Classical Style_ and enjoyed it. _Sonata Forms_ is a follow-up on the earlier book, pursuing the same ideas about sonata form at a more technical level.
Bottom line: this book is written for a particular audience, but people who are part of that audience and put in the time to listen to all the works analyzed will feel that their reading efforts have been rewarded.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First: this book presupposes a reader who can read music well and knows some harmonic theory--if you know what chord V of V is in any key, you're fine; if that looked like Greek or mathematics to you, look elsewhere for a book on sonata form.

That said, if, as I did, you tried to read Rosen's The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and found yourself confused by his discussion of sonata form there, this could be the place to start. Rosen's analysis of the sonata forms (notice the plural) here gives the reader a much more complete and convincing argument for his analysis of sonatas as dramatic conflicts of tonalities (and yes, that's an oversimplification of his analysis, but it'll have to do) rather than the standard explanation of a sonata as the exposition/development/recapitulation of two themes in different keys so many of us received.

Now for the bad news: if Rosen's knowledge of particulars is vast and unimpeachable, his argumentation and methods are iffy, especially at crucial points. Case in point: Rosen dismisses general practice as an explanatory model for why sonata forms developed as they did as relying on "a false psychology of the composition and reception of music." (p. 4) In its place, he wants to put the social history of musical performance and reception at the time of the rise of the sonata forms, which he first employs to devastating polemical effect against an unnamed proponent of the general practice model. Problem is, Rosen's own use of social history depends on unjustified (and sometimes unmentioned) assumptions about putative listeners and performers, so much so that it comes to resemble (if not actually reproduce!
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Format: Paperback
First - a word of caution - the reader must have a working knowledge of music theory (particularly form & harmonic analysis) to understand this book. Even with that, this book is a commitment. Its not something one would read only a part of - it is to be taken as a whole. It will require the reader to analyze the music with the author to come to terms with the material.

That being said, this book is well worth reading, given you have the time to read passages again and analyze the musical examples. It provides an excellent analysis of what sonata form is in the Classic Period, with all the details the average musician is not aware of. Rosen uncovers patterns not often discussed when talking about sonata form. This is an excellent history of its development, and in depth analysis of its parts.

I've heard the complaint about Rosen - he is sometimes too harsh in his judgment of others. (Perhaps he is intolerant of stupidity?) However, with respect to clarity, he outclasses most music scholars (at least in writing.) Unlike some scholars, he defines start and end points with measure numbers so the reader can clearly see what is being discussed. He provides definitions for the terms he uses so that there will be little question of what it is he is talking about. Overall, he avoids showy, elitist vocabulary in his text. I find his writing a breath of fresh air.

Understanding the material in this book will arm the reader with a deep understanding of the sonata form, down to is nuts and bolts. Well worth reading, but "Sonata Forms" is a huge commitment of time and energy to understand!
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