Sonata form (also sonata-allegro form or first movement form) is a musical structure consisting of three main sections: an exposition, a development, and a recapitulation. It has been used widely since the middle of the 18th century (the early Classical period).
While it is typically used in the first movement of multi-movement pieces, it is sometimes used in subsequent movements as well—particularly the final movement. The teaching of sonata form in music theory rests on a standard definition and a series of hypotheses about the underlying reasons for the durability and variety of the form—a definition that arose in the second quarter of the 19th century. There is little disagreement that on the largest level, the form consists of three main sections: an exposition, a development, and a recapitulation;: 359 however, beneath this general structure, sonata form is difficult to pin down to a single model.
The standard definition focuses on the thematic and harmonic organization of tonal materials that are presented in an exposition, elaborated and contrasted in a development and then resolved harmonically and thematically in a recapitulation. In addition, the standard definition recognizes that an introduction and a coda may be present. Each of the sections is often further divided or characterized by the particular means by which it accomplishes its function in the form.
After its establishment, the sonata form became the most common form in the first movement of works entitled "sonata", as well as other long works of classical music, including the symphony, concerto, string quartet, and so on.: 359 Accordingly, there is a large body of theory on what unifies and distinguishes practice in the sonata form, both within and between eras. Even works that do not adhere to the standard description of a sonata form often present analogous structures or can be analyzed as elaborations or expansions of the standard description of sonata form.