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Sonata cycle has two uses in western classical music.
- In reference to performance or recording, it almost always means the complete traversal of a set of works by a single composer. For example a "Beethoven sonata cycle" would refer to a performer playing all of Beethoven's piano sonatas.
- In music theory it can refer to the layout of a multi-movement work where the movements are recognizably in the forms of the tradition of classical music. The standard sonata cycle has a first movement in sonata form, also called sonata-allegro movement; a second movement which is usually in a slow tempo and in another key, and in one of a variety of forms such as theme and variations, compound ternary form, rondo, or sonata; a third movement in the home key, usually in Minuet [or Scherzo] and Trio form; and a fourth movement in the home key and in rondo, sonata, or theme and variations form. For more detail see Sonata. It differs from the term cyclic form in that there is no unifying motive or theme used in all the movements.
All of the musical terms above are in Wikipedia itself, and in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers. And in the online version Oxford Music Online. Although the latter website is by subscription, university and public libraries usually have a subscription to it.
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