For more than 200 years, the musical term "sonata" has essentially meant an instrumental solo piece, generally following a specific pattern of movements. The featured instrument might be accompanied by a piano, but the spotlight is definitely on just one player.
However, when the term first came into use it simply meant there weren't any singers involved. In the Baroque era, composers attached the sonata title to a range of compositions for small groups of musicians.
Each weekday morning we start off the 8:00 hour with music from the Baroque period. This week those selections will explore just what sonata meant in the 17th and early 18th centuries.
Monday—Jean-Marie Leclair: Violin Sonata in D
Leclair's music, intended for private performances in the chambers of the French king, called for three instruments but gave his own violin part the most opportunity to show off.
Tuesday—Dietrich Buxtehude: Sonata, Op. 2 no. 2 in D
Buxtehude called specifically for violin, viola da gamba and some sort of keyboard (harpsichords and clavichords were most common at the time), but unlike Leclair, Buxtehude wasn't so willing to let the violin take the spotlight. As a masterful gamba player himself, Buxtehude wasn't interested in being relegated to a supporting role.
Wednesday—Johann Sebastian Bach: Flute Sonata in b, BWV 1030
Late in the Baroque era, Bach eases us toward the modern idea of a sonata, writing only a harpsichord part to accompany the flute, but he has not adopted the "sonata-allegro form" which the next generation of composers would make standard.
Thursday—Joseph Boismortier: Trio Sonata in g, Op. 37 no. 4
In quintessential Baroque fashion, Boismortier wrote his trio sonatas for maxiumum adaptability. The featured part could be played on flute, oboe or violin, the "basso continuo" was appropriate for solo harpsichord, harpsichord and cello, or any combination of lower string instruments.
Friday —Domenico Scarlatti: Sonata in C K. 487
Few Baroque composers thought of keyboard instruments as anything other than supporting players, but Scarlatti was clearly enamored of the harpsichords and fortepianos that were available to him at the Spanish courts where he worked. He wrote more than 500 sonatas that were meant to be played as keyboard solos.