Sonata da camera is literally translated to mean 'chamber sonata' and is used to describe a group of instrumental pieces set into three or four different movements, beginning with a prelude, or small sonata, acting as an introduction for the following movements.
The term sonata da camera originated from Rome in the late 17th century from when Arcangelo Corelli wrote two different variations of sonata. These became known as "sonata da camera" and "sonata da chiesa" respectively. In the Oxford History of Western Music, Richard Taruskin describes a sonata da camera as "... essentially a dance suite, which Corelli adapted to the prevailing four-movement format (a 'preludio' and three dances or connecting movements)." The following dance style movements were usually given names referring to the style, e.g., partita, suite, ordre, ouverture and air (as in English reprints of Corelli's chamber sonatas). The most frequent instrumentation in sonata da camera was two violins and a bass. Most harmonies were completed in the bass part whilst the two treble instruments played above. This was also known as a trio sonata, as this consisted of three major parts. But sometimes, a fourth player (usually a cellist) was required to double on the basso continuo line. However, recent scholarship has revealed the diversity of instruments used for the basso continuo line in Corelli's milieu, including theorbo, guitar and organ. An ambiguity on the title page of Corelli's set of sonatas has led many to conclude that the continuo would have been either a harpsichord or cello, rather than both as was previously assumed.