Watch my video podcast below to find out how to use the Sonata Type Tree for Sonata Theory pedagogy and some of the ways it can be developed for analysis. This video was created for the Society for Music Analysis’s ‘Teaching Music Theory in the Digital Age’ Study Day, 26 Mar 2021.
Find out more about the study day and watch more video podcasts on digital music theory here.
The Sonata Type-Tree is currently an embedded PowerPoint file. To use it, click the ‘full screen’ option at the bottom right corner of the image. Rather than moving between slides in chronological order, please use the page links, home, and back buttons in the grey column to the left of the Sonata-Type Tree to compare the theoretical pathways through the different sonata types. A short explanation of the colour-coded symbols and acronyms can be found on the ‘Key’ page.
Please note that the diagram may not be compatible with some blog or RRS readers and you may have to visit this website to view it.
About the Diagram
Using this tool requires a knowledge of Sonata Theory that surpasses a familiarity of terminology and acronyms to require an understanding of the formal musical features that define the repertory of late eighteenth-century sonata movements. These include, but are in no means exclusive to, the first and last movements of solo sonatas, string quartets or other chamber genres, and symphonies. A brief guide to the types can be found below but this should be supplemented with James Hepokoski’s and Warren Darcy’s chapters on the types in their Elements of Sonata Theory: Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late Eighteenth-Century Sonata.
The tree diagram represents musical time vertically from top to bottom, with the pathways through each sonata type branching off to the left or right. For the sake of consistency, space is not used to signify tonal distance in the way that Hepokoski and Darcy’s well-known figure does (Fig. 2.1, p. 17) or Seth Monahan’s adapted version in Mahler’s Symphonic Sonatas (Fig. 1.1, p. 1). These two figures stagger non-tonic theme areas (S or C) on a higher horizontal plane to those in the tonic (P), whereas my diagram uses black to represent tonic material, white to represent non-tonic material and grey to represent material with a tonicizing function (TR/RT). A small gap has been left between TR and S to represent the medial caesura.
A Brief Guide to Sonata Types
TYPE 1 (expanded)
A bi-rotational sonata type lacking repeat marks.
After a retransition, the second rotation (R2) begins with a tonic statement of the primary theme (P), followed by an interpolated developmental ‘expansion’. After this diversion, the rotation begins to correspond to the exposition’s material again, most notably with the secondary theme area (S) in the tonic, thereby rendering the entire section a recapitulation. A coda, likely based on primary material may follow.
Another bi-rotational sonata type.
The opening of the second rotation (R2) is something of an unknown in this type, but it is often developmental and might involve P and/or TR material. At some point in this section, the music begins to correspond to the exposition’s materials in the tonic at some point, at least by the end of the secondary theme area. A coda, likely based on primary material may follow. Due to the lack of ‘double return’ in this form (P + tonic) before the ESC, this type is not considered to have a recapitulation at all. This type is defined in opposition to theories that do not require a rotational ordering of materials within a section: ‘reversed recapitulations’ or ‘mirror’ forms. The most common of these theoretical layouts is also shown on the Sonata Type Tree Diagram.
The traditional ‘textbook’ sonata type.
After a development, a full recapitulation follows, in which all of the expositions materials appear in order, transposed into the tonic. A coda may follow.
A sonata-rondo hybrid type.
Rather than existing as an entirely separate form to the Type 3 sonata, Hepokoski and Darcy theorise that Type 4 sonatas lie somewhere on a continuum between a Type 3 and a symmetrical seven-part rondo. The primary and secondary themes of a Type 4 correspond neatly to rondo-refrains and episodes. The transition (TR) between these theme areas gives this form some of its sonata status. Every section or rotation of this form begins with the primary theme-refrain, or at least part of it, in the tonic, including in the development. The recapitulation is followed by a P-refrain based coda.
Why not Type 5?
Though the Type 5 sonata (a ritornelli-concerto hybrid form) is related to the other types, it is complicated enough to exclude from the Sonata Type Tree, for now at least.
The Sonata Type Tree is an interactive tree diagram that I have created to visually represent James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy’s rotationally-defined Sonata Types 1, 2, 3 and 4, as theorised in Elements of Sonata Theory: Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late Eighteenth-Century Sonata. The Tree can be used as a pedagogical or research tool to investigate the alternative trajectories of each type including the points that they converge and diverge. Musical time is represented from the top to the bottom of the diagram with tonic and non-tonic keys represented by black and white circles, respectively. This particular use of space allows for different ‘pathways’ through the types to be represented simultaneously as forking ‘branches’ of the tree. It differs from the use of diagrammatic space in Elements of Sonata Theory, where musical time unfolds horizontally, with tonal space aligned with vertical space (see p. 16).
I hope this diagram might be used as an introduction to the Sonata Types for students, musicologists, and anyone else who is interested in musical form.
A trial version of the Sonata Type tree can now be found here!
What it is not: some disclaimers
It should go without saying, but I will say it anyway: my Sonata Type Tree is merely a visual representation of the first four sonata types defined by Hepokoski and Darcy. It does not account for the whole gamut of norms, defaults, or deformations discussed in the book or anywhere else. The tree is also a representation of a theory, not an analysis, and should be approached with the same critical eyes and ears as any other music theory that makes generalising claims. The diagram is not a concrete depiction of how the types manifest in individual works or a definitive guide to how a sonata form should be constructed or heard. And it’s certainly not ‘the answers’.
What is more, there are plenty of other convincing sonata theories out there, and plenty of theorists that raise convincing criticisms of the four sonata types. While it is beyond the scope of this post to consider such criticisms in detail, a few worth noting include an apparent lack of statistical evidence to support the existence of norms and types; a bias towards the music of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven in the examples that support these claims; and the conceptual unavailability of sonata types to these composers other than Type 3. I have included some of the reviews that raise these concerns in the bibliography below.
Subscribe to this blog to hear about new developments to the Sonata Type Trajectory Tree:
‘Introduction to the Sonata Type Trajectory Tree’, Klang! A Music Theory + Analysis Blog
Drabkin, William, ‘Mostly Mozart’, Reviewed Work: Elements of Sonata Theory: Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late-Eighteenth-Century Sonata by James Hepokoski, Warren Darcy, The Musical Times, Vol. 148, No. 1901 (Winter, 2007), 89-100.
Galand, Joel, Reviewed Work: Elements of Sonata Theory: Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late-Eighteenth-Century Sonata by James Hepokoski, Warren Darcy, Journal of Music Theory, Vol. 57, No. 2 (Fall 2013), 383-418.
Hepokoski, James A.. and Darcy, Warren, Elements of Sonata Theory: Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late-Eighteenth-Century Sonata (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2006, rev. ed. 2011).
Horton, Julian, ‘Bruckner’s Symphonies and Sonata Deformation Theory’, Journal of the Society for Musicology in Ireland, 1 (2005), 5-17.
______, ‘Criteria for a theory of nineteenth-century sonata form.’, Music Theory and Analysis, 4 (2) (2017), 147-191.
Hunt, Graham G., Reviewed Work: Elements of Sonata Theory: Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late-Eighteenth-Century Sonata by James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy, Theory and Practice, Vol. 32 (2007), 213-238.
Monahan, Seth, Mahler’s Symphonic Sonatas (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).
Wingfield, Paul, ‘Beyond “Norms and Deformations”: Towards a Theory of Sonata Form as Reception History’: Reviewed Work: Elements of Sonata Theory: Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late-Eighteenth-Century Sonata by James Hepokoski, Warren Darcy, Music Analysis, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Mar., 2008), 137-177.