Rock Around the Croc: Sonata Form

Howdy kids, it’s Sunday, so that must mean it’s time for pretty music! I’m your host Sobek, and today we continue our exploration of the Classical Era. In particular, we’ve spent the past few posts looking at three of the four musical forms that Classical composers selected from to create symphonies: theme and variations, minuet and trio, and rondo. Today we’ll look at the fourth and final form, the sonata [insert picture of Hyundai sonata here].

Let’s kick it off with the most famous sonata ever, Beethoven’s sonata No. 14 in C# minor, “Moonlight”:

The word sonata gets thrown around very loosely by these old composers so nailing down a definition is a little dodgy. The word itself just means “played,” as opposed to cantata, which is “sung.” This definitional shift is why it’s ironic that I started with “Moonlight,” because the Beethoven piece (a three movement work for solo piano, one of which is a rondo that I linked last week) is not what I’m talking about when I say that a symphony will have one or more of its movements in sonata form. The form consists of three sections: an exposition, development and recapitulation. Within that broad definition, everything gets really hard to pin down, because composers use the idea with so much flexibility. Freakin’ composers, man, I tell ya.

The idea of sonata form is so complicated that Professor Greenberg, in his excellent “How to Listen to and Understand Great Music” series, devotes three full lectures to the form. I won’t be doing that, as it’s really beyond my abilities. If you’re interested in catching a glimpse into just how into the weeds you can get, I refer you to the Wikipedia page on Sonata form (which does us the favor of focusing only on the form and not everything else that’s called a sonata). That entry uses Haydn’s keyboard sonata as an exemplar piece and I will follow suit:

At time stamps 0:08 to 2:22 we have the theme of the piece introduced in the Exposition. Here, as in many classical-era works, the theme is doubled with a repeat sign (end of page 2 of the score, at 1:14).

After the exposition has repeated we get into the development section. The contrast here is very clear because Haydn is nice enough to abruptly shift tone into what I think is an F# minor. But we only stay there until 2:45, when we shift back into the cheery tones of a major key. That’s really the point of a development section: we can jump through keys, shift from one mode to another, take the listener on a musical journey to wherever the composer wants to go, using whatever musical tricks available.

Here’s one that jumped out at me as I listened to and analyzed this passage, and it goes to the idea of cadence. A cadence is like a musical punctuation mark, be it a comma, period or semi-colon. The way a cadence works is that in the western harmonic system, certain chords create tension against the tonic, or primary chord of the piece, and our ears perceive this tension as wanting to resolve. If you have a chord of tension that resolves to the tonic, that is a closed cadence, and we hear it as a music period, the end of a sentence. A closed cadence is what we expect to hear at the end of a piece of western music to say “all done, you can start clapping now.” An open cadence gives a short pause, but does not resolve the tension, so it is like a comma, and if you try to end a sentence with one, you’ll will only annoy people,

The third type of cadence is a false or deceptive cadence. That’s where a chord of tension resolves, but to something other than the tonic. Imagine listening to something as simple as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and one the last line, “how I wonder what you are,” instead of descending F-F-E-E-D-D-C we descended F-F-E-E-D-D-A. Your ear would perceive the line as completely unresolved (more likely, you’d think the player had hit the wrong note). Here’s a really short video explaining the idea:

The reason I’m getting into the concept of cadences now is because of how Haydn uses them in his keyboard sonata. I was trying to figure out which key the piece modulated into during the development section. You can’t just look at the sharps and flats at the beginning of every line, because those say we’re still in G major (which has an F# in it). The easiest way to find the key is usually to listen for where the music seems to resolve, and hey presto, that’s your key. The most likely-sounding candidate for that in the Haydn seems like it’s going to be at 2:42 (the first note of the 73rd measure), but that F# immediately bounces up to a C (the fourth degree of a G major, a note of tension), descends down to what seems like should be a resolution until you hit a C# (first note of the 75th measure) that bounces up to Bb. We keep feeling like we’re falling towards a resolution to the tonic, a chord of resolution and stability, but Haydn keeps saying “not yet, sucka, gots more musicing to do.”

And that, my friends, is the whole point of a development section in a sonata form. The exposition, the first part, exists to introduce the theme and get your ears set up for what’s coming next. It’s the development section where you get to experience everything the composer intends to do with the modification of that theme. This is wonderful stuff.

The recapitulation begins at 2:59. The purpose of this section is to bring back to our minds the original exposition, but also to recognize that after the development section, the original theme has been transformed somehow, and so the recapitulation must reflect that transformation.

In the Classical era, sonata form developed to be different from other musical forms by featuring two themes. Sonata form let’s a composer set out the principle theme, then a secondary theme. Ideally, these two themes will strongly contrast with one another in order to maximize the dramatic tension when they come into close musical proximity, crashing into each other to make something new. That’s why the form became and remained so extremely popular throughout the following centuries.

Mozart’s G Minor symphony (No. 40), 4th movement, is one of my favorite pieces of music ever, and a great example of this contrast in themes and subsequent development. This music is worth nine minutes of your time, I assure you:

Theme A runs from 0:00 to 1:01, and it’s a blistering, moody, fierce, thunderbolt of spiky, jagged craziness. When Theme B starts at 1:01, you know something very, very different is happening: something sweet, lilting, melodic, the polar opposite of theme that left us bloodied and bruised on the floor. More than half of the instruments drop out completely. The development section starts at 3:37, and you can easily hear the two themes – not just the notes, but the moods created by those notes – crashing into each other to create something extraordinary.

Before moving on, I’ll give you a couple more good examples in case you’re interesting in practicing listening to the different sections. Haydn’s Symphony 88, movement 1, is in sonata form, and is also a good example of the warning that you can’t assume the first notes you hear are the first theme. Here, the first theme doesn’t come in until 1:15, with all preceding material serving as an introduction to the piece. The theme is a beautiful, lyric tune that is so very Haydn:

And here’s Mozart’s overture to the opera Don Giovannni, which is set in sonata form. This is a great example because Mozart is using the two contrasting themes of the piece to introduce the two principal, contrasting characters: the dark and tormented Don Giovanni and his comic and cowardly servant Leporello:

Before I leave the classical era for the day and move into some contemporary stuff, I want to link what may be my single favorite piece of music ever composed, the second movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. According to Wikipedia, this is structured in double variation form. To me, this sounds like sonata form, with the second theme coming in at 2:37. Whatever. Turn the volume up, shut off the lights, close your eyes, breathe in all of those melodic lines swirling and dancing around one another flawlessly, and thank God that He blessed us with Beethoven.

I want to end today’s lesson by talking a little more about cadence, and what happens when you mess it up. I want to talk about a couple of songs that bothered me for many years even though I didn’t know how to explain why: “Best of You” by the Foo Fighters, and “The Hand that Feeds” by Nine Inch Nails. I’ll start by saying I don’t hate either band. On the contrary, the first time I heard both of these songs I thought, “right on, this sounds cool.” But both songs had lost me before they were even over. Here’s the Foo Fighters:

Dave comes in with this really cool contrast between the intensity of the first line (“I’ve got another confession to make!”) accompanied by a single, clean guitar. This was where I thought I was in for a great new tune. The very next line loses so much of that power (“I’m your fool”). It’s a quieter line, for one thing, but the last line feels like a stopping point. Even though the guitar is still going, the vocal line has just said, in effect, all done here. It’s a musical period, a closed cadence. That means when the next line comes in (“Everyone’s got their chains to break”) we’re starting the energy level from scratch, with no momentum to carry us forward. Have you ever been in a car with someone who’s learning how to drive, and they don’t know how hard to hit the brakes yet, so you’re lurching forward and back over and over again? That’s the driving equivalent of having too many closed cadences in your music. If you don’t have enough momentum to carry you forward in the song, you never build up the power that you need to hit the listener in the feelings box. The chorus is the worst offender, where every single time Dave asks “Is someone getting the best, the best, the best of you?” it sounds like a closed cadence, and that happens over and over again throughout the song. The 4:20 run time is an emotional flatline for me. Now here’s my favorite Foo Fighters of all time, All My Life:

The Nine Inch Nails song has the same problem. Again, the first time I heard the intro I got excited because it sounded so cool:

We started with some muffled electronica, then Trent’s voice jumps in at 0:15, followed by the drums and guitars. Man, what a great start! The thing that kneecaps the song for me in the chorus:

Just how deep do you believe?

Will you bite the hand that feeds?

Will you chew until it bleeds?

Can you get up off your knees?

Every line ends on the same note, and every line drains the musical energy that started out so promising. In the outro to the song, Trent repeats “Will you bite the hand that feeds you/Will you stay down on your knees” over and over, and the problem is not the repeated lyrics (that can be cool in the right context), its that every line feels like it comes to a dead stop. What I love most about music is intensity, that musical something that turns sounds into emotion. But intensity isn’t just a function of volume. Trent is screaming these words, he sounds angry, he sounds like he really means it. But the lyrical line doesn’t match, and so the song feels like a missed opportunity. Here’s Down In It, because Head Like a Hole would be too obvious, and because I don’t like the lyrics of Wish:

This is already a long one, so I’ll sign off for the week, but I’ll have more thoughts on cadence, how it worked back then and how it works (or doesn’t) now, next time, as we finally get to The Symphony. Have a blessed week, and give someone a hug who needs one.

Pupper pics/car in

Lucy post bath
Can you find the fifth dog?


  1. I’ve got another confession to make, I mixed up the guitar solo from all my life and the best of you. Done, done, on to the next one is a mantra of mine and my favorite screamy song of all time.

    and the problem is not the repeated lyrics (that can be cool in the right context),

    Almost every song that hits the tagline over and over for 1.5 minutes just makes me skip to next. I don’t really understand what you wrote about cadence and musical energy because I’m not a musical scholar, I just know what I like. I like the intensity of the vocals in both Foo songs, but please just write another verse instead of repeating the chorus 12 times, kthanx.

  2. Here’s the best the think Trent ever did. This performance right here:

  3. the problem I have with the foo fighters is that they are often too repetitious. They have a cool sound but it often doesn’t go anywhere. If someone is going to repeat a chorus, or music bit over and over – it had better be ReALLY good. Otherwise, once was enough.

  4. Like what this song does around1:53. Just love it.

  5. Stella update? Fat puppy pictures?

  6. All the puppies/doggos are good. No hate from stella this morning. I have my granddog Phoebe here so she’s got someone extra to play with.

    Nova is getting HARD lessons on the invisible fence with the collar turned up to 11. I think the collar I used on her before was malfunctioning. Right now she’s on a trust but verify status – she’s not outside alone/unsupervised. She’s really obedient, so hopefully we can get her trained on the fence and go back to a less stressful routine.

    Lucy is completely untrustworthy. I have to keep her on a long leash. Otto doesn’t go ANYWHERE. lol

    I’ll see if I can get some fat pupper pictures later.

  7. Did I share this? the video cracks me up. this singer is “new” – the original guy was just a screamer, and would do quasi singing for the clean vocals. this guy tried on with a youtube video – and has an AMAZING voice, so there was a lot of hate from old fans. But they’re coming around.

  8. Lucy is in Moose’s spot. Ottoa is on the dog bed next to me.

  9. Wait, Mitchelle did you actually crochet that pig and piglettes??


  10. Dangit. Puppy and mom were snuggled on the bed together and i didn’t get a picture.

  11. Beethoven’s 7th. Niiiiiiiiiiice. Always been one of my favorites.

  12. Chimney is supposed to get fixed on Tuesday and the high temperature for that day is going to be about 12 degrees.

    I bet they don’t show up, and they will wake us up at 6 AM to let us know.

  13. Ice Dam! Taking on water.

  14. Ice is pretty bad here.
    The road and driveway are not currently passable.

  15. I need more salt fuckers

  16. Dixon is a badass btw

  17. They are never going to stop.

    Flurona!!!!!!!!! wasn’t enough.

    Now we have Deltacron!!!!!


  18. *AW-OOOOOgah*


  19. Hmmm, so evidently they’re discovering the the “omicron” variant was developed in a lab and escaped.

  20. LOL

  21. Look I’m not saying that going around the world and finding all these viral labs and cleansing them with Holy Thermite is something I’m planning to do, but if that guy has a GoFundMe, I’m interested.


  23. I’m personally tired of pretending he can read at all.

  24. Lebron’s estimated annual income is $100 million.

  25. It doesn’t end until you kill them. You understand this right? This is war. We are being attacked. They want to reduce the global population. This has always been part of the utopian agenda.

    Saw that reportedly 50 million have seen the Rogan podcast with the MD. Joe Rogan is the new Limbaugh for this gen.

  26. Penelope saw where they are trying to lower the voting age to 16 in NM. Plus there is a bill to automatically restore voting rights to felons.

  27. Poat updated with puppies.

  28. Mitchell, have you tried mosaic crochet? Beautiful designs that can go quite masculine. Tinna is one person I follow but there are many talented designers out there. This design “Montana”, is on my list.

  29. Fifth dog under the desk. Who do I win…Moose?

  30. LOL. Lucy was under the deck. Moose is pouting out in the hallway.

  31. Oso, we don’t have to test to get a colonoscopy. We are only asked questions like if we’ve been out of the country, have you tested positive in the past 21 days, any symptoms. That’s it.

    It is quite depressing reading what you and Pepe are reporting from North Mexico…though I suspect the real Mexico is less stasi.

  32. Aww, poor Moose. The snoogliest bear dog ever.
    He sort of reminds me of my piggy George. Big ol sweet boy.

  33. He’s mad because Erin got dressed and left the house and didn’t take hiim to get a pup cup from starbucks.

    that dog is developing a dependency.

  34. Some of my liberal friends are going to keep fucking that lemming until they go right over the cliff.

    It’s truly pathetic.

  35. Mare, yes I made the pig and piglets but that’s not my picture, that’s from instructions. Mine looks pretty much like that though.

    Beans, those are nice designs, but no I haven’t tried mosaic crochet. We don’t use blankets very often here in Vegas, and we already have a bunch of quilts my parents made. Been a long while since I’ve knitted anything so I’m eager to bust out the needles again.

  36. Grocery store was 95% masked.

    Liquor store was 15% masked.

  37. Our roof dam issue lasted for about 5 minutes and we took on 1/2 oz of water.

    Best roof dam ever!

  38. I noticed more masking at stores near me but what do you expect when the local news is fucking lying about everything.

  39. It’s all nuts because the CDC isn’t even saying some of this stuff.
    Mr. B was all ready to defend the news and tweets of alleged doctor until I countered with what the CDC said “no evidence of kids affected more by OMGcron!”

  40. Mitchell, you can use them as couch protectors.

  41. I need to teach me some knitting.

  42. The grocery store I go to is 99% masked. I am the one percent.

  43. Lapeer has gotten more masked, but its still only about 60% by my rough estimate.

  44. Its getting dicey because so many people are sick – its getting hard to keep things open. They’re not HOSPITAL sick. Just sick. At home, etc. The call-ins at work are overwhelming, and the local school had to cancel bus routes.

    So when the managers at work are asking people to step up and help out – my view is … shouldn’t an equal amount of customers be sick and not showing up?


  45. Ice Dam! Taking on water.
    About 20 years ago my front gutter had an ice dam and the front room was leaking like a sieve. I was up on a ladder chipping ice out of the gutter and swearing most of the day. I bought a roof rake after that and regularly got the snow off. About 10 years later when my contractor did the roof over he put water shield way up and removed the gutter entirely. We still use the roof rake, the snow just accumulates there something awful.

  46. Pepe, I read the article in the 3rd link about Omicron when it came out. The argument that it didn’t evolve naturally is pretty convincing.

  47. I got a fitting to convert the shower head pipe thread to garden hose, and sprayed the roof with hot water last time.

    We were very lucky with this one.

  48. I tried knitting first many years ago and had a tough time with it, my stitches were WAAYY to tight. I took some lessons at a LYS but still had problems. I switched to crochet for a couple years and got the hang of that pretty quickly and tried knitting again and picked it up pretty quickly. It’s all about tension and crochet teaches you about that.

  49. I’m seeing about 50/50 on masking around here. Grocery store, post office, liquor store, comic store, hardware store, etc. I’m surprised as many people wear masks at all. Post office has a sign saying they’re required but the staff still deals with you without one on.

  50. Posted a link at 12:53 and it went to spam. Just fished it out.

  51. Scott = McGyver

  52. Huh. That one had to be fished out of the spam bucket too. Is WP banning shit?

  53. Lucy sounds like a rabid animal. You would not believe how evil/mean she sounds when she gets worked up.

  54. Lumps,
    That was pretty interesting…

  55. Call the gut wagon

  56. Thank you, lumps.

  57. Rectification of names has commenced.

  58. Thank you two times, lumps

  59. not up to 40% masking here. maybe average 25?

  60. If AOC dies, it was part of the Op.

  61. Maybe 20% masking here, usually the older people at church and the younger people at the grocery store.

    Hoping karma is not going to bite me in the ass for laughing at AOC getting covid. Biden probably had it when he was saying it was a cold one of his grandkids gave him.

  62. RIP Bob Saget, at 65. Dunno cause.

  63. Puts $20 on covid booster, and another $20 on prior cocaine use.


  64. Found in his hotel room in Orlando after doing a show. No foul play, no drugs found. CoD is still undetermined.

  65. Booster. Betty, John, Vicente, and now Saget. Another soccer player had an heart attack in Qatar. African 25 year old following Vax and boost. I wonder if mi familia will have to repay their 9K FEMA funeral after passing with not of COVID. CDC is about as Constitutional as EPA, Dept of Energy, Teachers, and TSA.

  66. Everyone I know that used cocaine in the 80’s has had heart issues.

    One heart attack, and three open heart surgeries.

    This all happened while they were in their 40’s and 50’s.

  67. So if omicron came out of a lab, what was the point? Was it too soon and supposed to hamper the elections in November, or was it supposed to be worse to keep the pressure on the anti-vaxxers?

  68. Scott, yep. Tom Petty and others that were drug free/rehabbed had heart attacks as well. Princess Leia.

  69. Fuck…even Steven. Booster deaths will never be acknowledged

  70. Bah! Just bought a box of Ritz crackers today.

  71. Check out your funeral homes for FEMA 9K toward COVID + funerals. CDC is under attack by big business over COVID paid time leave. If CDC goes forward with their “With” not “Of” rutabega save, will mi familia have to compensate the FEDS?

  72. Sunday Funnies:

  73. Dancing eased Richard’s pain.

  74. Everyone I know that used cocaine in the 80’s has had heart issues.
    Well of course, that was when the CIA was putting chemicals in the coke and weed to control people’s minds!

    (I remember the paraquot scare with weed back in the 70’s)

  75. Ethan hit the Grinder at 3 am his time.

  76. kill it, Ethan! whip that omelettes ass!

  77. So, I’m not one to call people out, but just a bit ago someone wrote that they knew a LOT of people who died of covid (and its all the fault of the anti-vaxers).

    A few questions:

    1. Do you know a LOT of elderly people?
    2. Are you surrounded by a lot of unhealthy people? Overweight with other issues?
    3. Do you know anyone who has died of anything else in the last two years?

    I’d seriously like to ask them these things.

  78. also:
    4. How many deaths of young, healthy people is acceptable to gain 6 months to a year for someone near the end of life?

  79. Nurses last night were telling me that covid is still killing people even if it cuts only a few months off of their life.

    WHich, I get. But at what cost are we reaching to gain back those few months for these people? Is it worth the risk to young folks?

    (the nurses work in hospice)

  80. I don’t even know if Ethan got much sleep last night. He was so anxious, nervous.

  81. I wanted to talk to him yesterday, but he texted me super late that he was just too busy. After a long hard day today, they have a room inspection and they get a good beat down if they don’t pass. He said only a tiny fraction pass, but I had told him passing would really save him some misery, so maybe he was trying extra hard.

  82. I’m a doctor so you should listen to me.

    Here’s what happens with older people. They have some sort of event; a fall, a stroke, a heart issue…something. They go to a hospital and get 3 or 4 thousand medications. Something else happens. A few more thousand medications. They’re put in a nursing home where they receive pretty good care, but not great. Something small happens and they go back to the hospital. At some point they get sick and it developed into pneumonia or some other lung ailment. They get better for a week or two, then they take a turn for the worse and die.

    That respiratory ailment is now covid. But the cold hard truth is that they were probably going to die fairly soon anyway. Could have been months, but it wasn’t going to be years.

    The unhealthy people who are dying probably would have lived for years. It’s sad but choices matter. Years of choices matter more and can work against you in unpredictable ways.

    The healthy people dying are the outliers. It happens. The ‘what if’ game with them is that they likely would have lived much, much longer. But there always outliers. In the time it took you to read this comment, lets say 5 seconds, 10 people just died worldwide.

    The vast majority of those people were old and about to go. But one of them put a bad dragon toy up his posterior and is about to find out what going septic means. Or walked into traffic looking at his phone. Or took that last shot of heroin. Or stepped on a cobra. Or got drunk and went swimming. You get the point.

  83. Working on MMM. NyQuil inertia.

  84. What MJ said.

    Call them out, Car in. Those are good questions.

    I only know if one elderly person who died of covid. Cousin and close friend to Aunt Betty. 79. Her daughter gave it to her. She was sick with symptoms, said she was sick, and visited for the holidays anyway. Helen was just starting a regimen to get healthy.
    Lived in AZ.

  85. Should probably go to bed now. My kid snotted me off yesterday and it pissed me off. 29 going on 13.

  86. I know the answers MJ. I want to hear THEIR answers. See what they say. Have a Socratic discussion and see where it gets us.

  87. MMM 477

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