A piano sonata is a sonata written for unaccompanied piano. Piano sonatas are usually written in three or four movements, although piano sonatas have been written with one movement (Scarlatti, Scriabin), two movements (Beethoven), five (Brahms' Third Piano Sonata) or even more movements. The first movement is usually composed in sonata form.
The Baroque keyboard sonata
In the Baroque era, the use of the term "sonata" generally referred to either the sonata da chiesa (church sonata) or sonata da camera (chamber sonata), both of which were sonatas for various instruments (usually one or more violins plus basso continuo). The keyboard sonata was relatively neglected by most composers.
The sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti (of which there are over 500) were the hallmark of the Baroque keyboard sonata, though they were for the most part unpublished during Scarlatti's lifetime. The majority of these sonatas are in one-movement binary form, both sections being in the same tempo and utilizing the same thematic material. These sonatas are prized for both their technical difficulty and their musical and formal ingenuity. The influence of Spanish folk music is evident in Scarlatti's sonatas.
Other composers of keyboard sonatas (which were primarily written in two or three movements) include Marcello, Giustini, Durante and Platti.
Piano sonatas in the Classical era
Although various composers in the 17th century had written Piano pieces which they entitled "Sonata", it was only in the classical era, when the piano displaced the earlier harpsichord and sonata form rose to prominence as a principle of musical composition, that the term "piano sonata" acquired a definite meaning and a characteristic form.
All the well-known Classical era composers, especially Joseph Haydn, Muzio Clementi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven, wrote many piano sonatas. Muzio Clementi wrote more than 110 piano sonatas. He is well-known as "The Father of the Pianoforte". Clementi's Op.2 is the first real piano sonata. The much younger Franz Schubert also wrote many. The 32 sonatas of Beethoven, including the well-known Pathétique Sonata and the Moonlight Sonata, are often considered the pinnacle of piano sonata composition.
Piano sonatas in the Romantic era
As the Romantic era progressed after Beethoven and Schubert, piano sonatas continued to be composed, but in lesser numbers as the form took on a somewhat academic tinge and competed with shorter genres more compatible with Romantic compositional style. Franz Liszt's comprehensive "three-movements-in-one" Sonata in B minor draws on the concept of thematic transformation first introduced by Schubert in his Wanderer Fantasie of 1822 and Beethoven's Piano Sonata Op 29 (Hammerklavier). Piano sonatas have been written throughout the 19th and 20th centuries and up to the present day.
Noted piano sonatas
- MacDowell, Edward
- Sonata Tragica, Op.45
- Sonata Eroica, Op.50
- Third Sonata, Op.57
- Fourth Sonata, Op.59
- Schumann, Robert
- Piano Sonata No. 1 in F-sharp minor, Op.11 "Grosse Sonate"
- Piano Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op.22
- Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op.14 "Concerto without Orchestra"
- Weber, Carl Maria von
- Piano Sonata No. 1 in C major, Op.24 (J. 138)
- Piano Sonata No. 2 in A flat major, Op.39 (J. 199)
- Piano Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op.49 (J. 206)
- Piano Sonata No. 4 in E minor, Op.70 (J. 287)
20th Century (Including Modern)
- Hindemith, Paul
- Piano Sonata No. 1 in A Major "Der Main"
- Piano Sonata No. 2 in G Major
- Piano Sonata No. 3 in B flat Major
- Liebermann, Lowell
- Piano Sonata No. 1, Op. 1
- Piano Sonata No.2 ("Sonata Notturna") Op.10 (1983)
- Piano Sonata No.3 Op.82 (2002)
- Medtner, Nikolai
- Piano Sonata No. 3 in D minor "Sonate-Elegie", Op. 11, No. 2
- Piano Sonata No. 6 in C minor, "Sonata-Skazka," ("Fairy Tale Sonata"), Op. 25, No. 1
- Piano Sonata No. 10 in A minor "Reminiscenza", Op. 38, No. 1
- Piano Sonata No. 11 in C minor "Sonata Tragica", Op. 39, No. 5
- Piano Sonata No. 12 in B-flat minor "Romantica", Op. 53, No. 1