What's different between sonata and partita?

August 12, 2013 at 06:29 PM · What's different bettween sonata and partita?

Replies (18)

August 12, 2013 at 06:55 PM · Hi Duc,

I'm thinking you are likely speaking of Bach! Here is a simple and not-very-detailed explanation:

A Sonata is in traditional four-movement form.

A Partita is a group of dance movements.

August 13, 2013 at 12:42 AM · Another way of thinking of it-- the full name of "Sonata" would be "Sonata da Chiesa"-- i.e., a sonata one would play in church. A partita might also be called, in contrast, "Sonata da Camera"-- i.e., something for a secular setting.

August 13, 2013 at 02:48 AM · Also in Bach, a sonata will include a fugue. The structure is more predictable. With the partitas in the Bach violin set, they are all different: the B minor has each mvt. followed by a variation in double time; the D minor ends in the amazing Chaconne; the dances in the E major are preceded by a long, virtuosic prelude.

But can anyone explain the differences between partitas and suites? In the cello set they are called suites; in the keyboard works some are called partitas and others suites.

August 13, 2013 at 02:51 AM · One is Italian and the other French?

Perhaps a keyboard scholar could weigh in.

August 13, 2013 at 12:10 PM · Maybe. As I recall, in his keyboard works, Bach has French and English suites, plus partitas. Maybe it's the type of dances selected - some originating in this or that country.

And while we're at it, can someone explain the difference between a chaconne and a passacaglia?

August 13, 2013 at 12:29 PM · Passacaglia it seems is definitely a construction on a Ground Bass whereas a chaconne is based on a repeated harmonic progression (slow 3 beats), although depends on what source one refers to - probably obscured by some sources suggesting the chaconne is also constructed on a ground bass.

August 13, 2013 at 02:00 PM · I think the modern theory professor's response has to do with harmony vs. bass line, but originally the chaconne was a dance brought back from Latin America, and early examples-- earlier than Bach-- were definitely built on passionate and athletic bass lines. By Bach's time that dance had had a few centuries to settle down and morph. I think of his Ciaconna as a passacaglia in a Saraband rhythm.

August 13, 2013 at 04:51 PM · The sonata in Bach's time was not strictly defined, as it came to be in the classical period. It seems to be a larger and more abstract work than a suite. Although some movements are dance-like they don't adhere to the structure of the dance, and they will often have contrasting sections that are fugal or that are more free and virtuosic. Bach wrote sonatas for violin and keyboard, also for gamba and keyboard, for flute and keyboard, and various others.

There is no difference between a suite and a partita. They are both collections of dances. I believe that Bach was the only composer who used the term partita instead of suite. We can speculate that the French suites are more in the ornamental and stylized french style, derived from Couperin, while the partitas are more in the Italian style, more operatic, more similar to Vivaldi and Corelli. Personally I don't agree with that, but, who knows for sure?

Interestingly enough, if you look at the manuscript -- Bach clearly called them "Partia" and not "partita".

August 13, 2013 at 10:12 PM · As to frensh or italian: All the violin sonatas and partitas are entitled with italian terms. Not so the Cello Suites. So there must be some meaning to it. And there are differences in tempi in some french and italian dance movements, wich are named similarly, like allemande/allemanda.

But with that question I would go to a library and use the grove- music encyclopedia or the MGG. Also the Internet will provide information about the basic question of the OP. Research is something one has to learn, with such a basic question its so easy. Use google.

August 13, 2013 at 10:21 PM · Sonata: that which is played

cantata: that which is sung

partita: that which is partited

ground bass: needs a very large pestle.

August 14, 2013 at 12:18 AM · Nigel, I had heard that in a passacaglia, the sequence of notes doesn't always have to be repeated in the bass. It can be in any line.

Scott, ground bass is an expensive way of making a fish döner or pizza topping, and a partita is so called because he doesn't scoff the lot.

August 14, 2013 at 03:38 PM · John, I've got at least one Dictionary of Music that says that too. Oh well, pesky composers...have probably always wanted to break the rules and go and do their own thing.

August 14, 2013 at 09:10 PM · I guess that "ostinato bass" would be a fish that stubbornly refuses to be caught!

August 14, 2013 at 11:59 PM · I'm reminded of the time a friend of my father's went to dig out some parts from furniture in his conservatory, and found they were unreadable because they'd been half eaten away by mice. I guess the mice were partitas.

August 15, 2013 at 04:09 PM · OK, seriously:


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Passacaglia and chaconne are examples of continuous variation. Composers of the eighteenth century frequently blur distinctions between the two, sometimes calling a chaconne a passacaglia and vice versa. Today's writers do not always agree on what makes the difference. In general, passacaglia have a basso ostinato (ground bass) while chaconne do not. The important thing to remember about a passacaglia is that the ground is invariant. Here, for example, is Purcell's ground to "When I am laid in earth" from the opera "Dido & Aeneas." As you listen, be aware that the ground bass repeats exactly as represented below...with no melodic or rhythmic change whatsoever. How many times does Purcell repeat the ground? |

There is a very famous passacaglia that borrows its ground from André Raison's Premier Livre d'orgue (1688). Bach uses Raison's motive as the basis for twenty variations, most of which state the ground literally in the bass. You will notice, however, that some of the later variations place the ground in the alto. In a couple of variations the ground disappears altogether. Tom Parsons has done a very fine analysis of this passacaglia, mapping each variation in terms of continuity versus contrast as well as position of the ground. Upon concluding the Passacaglia, Bach makes a fugue from the first eight pitches of the ground. You may recall listening to this fugue in the fifth week (hint: it is a permutation fugue famous for its TWO countersubjects).

In addition to the ground, there are broad stylistic traits that characterize both passacaglia and chaconne. They tend to be in a slow triple meter with a short-long short-long harmonic rhythm. The chord progression normally involves momentum toward the dominant by way of a descending chromatic line. Eighteenth-century audiences would have recognized this chromatic descent as a lamento (as in Dido's Lament). In opera, such music was reserved for the most poignant of scenes, while in church music it was associated with the pathos of Christ's crucifixion. Study the score to the Crucifixus of Bach's Mass in b minor (see YouTube). Notice that, like Purcell, Bach employs a lamento. Bach's ground is, in fact, identical to the first half of Purcell's. This does not mean that Bach was copying Purcell...he probably had never heard of "Dido's Lament." Rather, the lamento bass was a stock phrase in eighteenth-century music and nearly every composer would have used it many times. Observe that Bach repeats the ground thirteen times. This number would have represented faithlessness and betrayal. Two of the repetitions contain slight variations...which ones, and what is changed?

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August 15, 2013 at 07:13 PM · According to Professor Peter Schickele, P.D.Q. Bach (the last and least of J.S.'s sons) used a ground bass in a set of rounds which he titled "The Art of the Ground Round" (S. 1.19/lb).

August 15, 2013 at 08:50 PM · With regard to the difference between partitas and two types of sonata (see early above), a spot of clarification seems called for. Sonata da chiesa, for church performance, and sonata da camera, for domestic performance, are two rather different styles of sonata. The former is rather more serioso, the presence of a fugato second movement is more common in it and the continuo keyboard is, or should be, the organ. The sonata da camera is secular in style with harpsichord continuo. Neither of these is a partita.

August 22, 2013 at 11:50 PM · Raphael, according to what I read, I don't think you're right. All that is required for a passacaglia to be a passacaglia is for the sequence of notes to be repeated somewhere, not necessarily in the bass. A ground bass is a ground bass and is a special case of passacaglia.

Of the four famous romantic passacaglias (You may know of more!), I think only the Death of Falstaff keeps the theme in the bass, and that's because Walton was being very English and Purcellian.

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