The trio sonata is a genre, typically consisting of three or four movements with contrasting two melody instruments and a continuo. Originating in the early seventeenth-century, the trio sonata was a favorite chamber ensemble combination in the Baroque era.
The trio sonata typically consisted of three parts, two violins and a continuo (Boer 2012, 466). However, the two violins could be substituted for pairs of flutes, recorders, or oboes. The second part, the basso continuo, has two parts. First, it includes the bass line, which most commonly was provided with a bass viol, violone, violoncello, or bassoon. Second, it includes a harmony-producing instrument, such as a small organ, a harpsichord, or a theorbo. The (basso) continuo could be performed by two or more performers; a cellist to play the bass line and a harpsichordist or organist to focus on the harmonies. Because there could be two people playing the continuo part, there could be as many as four players playing. This can be misleading to some as the “trio” of the trio sonata refers to the three parts and not the number of players. Sonatas could be placed into two categories: sonata da camera (chamber sonata) and sonata da chiesa (church sonata). The chamber sonata was considered a group of stylized dances and church sonatas were much more serious and typically arranged into a slow-fast-slow-fast sequence (Vetter n.d.).
Composers, compositions and variant formats
- Twelve Trio-Sonatas, Op. 1 (dedicated to Queen Christina of Sweden) published in Rome in 1683
- Twelve Chamber Sonatas, Op. 2 (dedicated to Cardinal Panfili), published in Rome in 1685
- Twelve Trio-Sonatas, Op. 3 (dedicated to Francesco II d'Este, Duke of Modena), published in Rome in 1689
- Twelve Trio-Sonatas, Op. 4 (dedicated to Cardinal Ottoboni), published in Rome in 1694.
An additional collection of Trio Sonatas, for two violins, cello, and organ, was published as "Op. post." in Amsterdam, in 1714 (Talbot 2001b). Corelli's trios would serve as models for other composers well into the 18th century (Mattheson 1739, 345: §8).
Johann Sebastian Bach
German composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, is another notable composer of the trio sonata, but he was known for shying away from the traditional structure of the sonata. He typically played the three parts with less than three instruments. An example of this is one part would be played by the violin and the other two parts could be played by a keyboard. He also experimented with playing all three parts on the organ. An example of this is Bach's Trio Sonata for organ, BMV 525-530 (Britannica 2007).
Other trio sonatas by Bach include:
- Trio Sonatas for organ, BWV 525–530, combining all three parts on one instrument: typically the right hand, left hand and pedals will each take a different part thus creating the same texture as in a trio.
- A further innovation by Bach was the trio sonatas involving a concertante (obbligato) right-hand harpsichord part in addition to the bass line, plus one melodic instrument, thus for two players (Breig 1997). Examples are the Six Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord, BWV 1014–1019, three sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord, BWV 1027–1029, and three sonatas for flute and harpsichord, BWV 1030–1032; BWV 1031 is doubtful (Schmieder, Dürr, and Kobayashi 1998, 420–21 and 466).
- Sonata in G major for two flutes and basso continuo, BWV 1039, variant version for two flutes and basso continuo of BWV 1027
- BWV 1036–1038: Trio Sonatas for basso continuo and two violins. The attribution of these works to Bach is doubtful, but all are typical of baroque chamber music.
- The mid-18th-century manuscript D-B Mus. ms. Bach St 345 contains a Concerto (or: Trio Sonata) in C major for violin, cello and continuo, arranged from (or: earlier version of) BWV 525/1, 1032/2 and 525/3 respectively (Bach (et al.?) 1740–1760). The 1998 edition of the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis lists this version as BWV 525a, and considers the attribution of the arrangement to Bach doubtful (Schmieder, Dürr & others 1998, 466). Based on the New Bach Edition, the Bach Digital website gives "BWV deest" instead of the BWV number 525a for this chamber music version (Hofmann 2006).
- Tomaso Albinoni, 12 sonatas da chiesa Op. 1, twelve balletti a tre Op. 3, twelve Trattenimenti armonici per camera, for violin, viola, and continuo, Op.6, six sonatas da camera as part of Op. 8, six unpublished trio sonatas Op. 11, and a further six trio sonatas without opus number in a manuscript in Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Musiksammlung (Talbot 2001a).
- Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach wrote at least 44 trio sonatas, including one for flute, viola, and piano, said to have been given its world premiere by the Society for Forgotten Music at the New York Public Library on 30 January 1949 (Anon. 1949). His best-known work in the genre is the programmatic Trio ("Sanguineus und Melancholicus"), in C minor, composed in 1749 and published in Nuremberg in 1751, which exists in two versions: one for obbligato keyboard and violin, the other for two violins and continuo (Wolff and Leisinger 2001).
- William Boyce, 12 Trio Sonatas for two violins and continuo (1747) (Boyce 1747)
- Dieterich Buxtehude, Op. 1, six sonatas, and Op. 2, seven sonatas, scored for violin, viola da gamba and basso continuo. These were the only works by Buxtehude that were published during his lifetime. Though real trio texture does occur from time to time, these are really sonate a due for violin and viola da gamba, with the continuo often being a simplification of the gamba part. There are however four genuine trio sonatas by Buxtehude surviving in manuscript, two for two violins, viola da gamba and continuo in C and G major (BuxWV 266 and 271), one for two violins and continuo in F major (BuxWV 270, fragmentary), and one for viola da gamba, viola, and continuo in D major (BuxWV 267) (Snyder 2001).
- François Couperin published a number of trio sonatas: Le Parnasse, ou L’apothéose de Corelli, grande sonade en trio, for two violins and continuo (Paris, 1724); Concert instrumental sous le titre d’Apothéose composé à la mémoire immortelle de l’incomparable Monsieur de Lully, for two violins (two flutes, or other unspecified instruments), and continuo (Paris, 1725); and the collection Les nations: sonades et suites de simphonies en trio, for two violins and continuo (Paris, 1726), consisting of La Françoise [La pucelle], L’Espagnole [La visionnaire], L’impériale, and La Piemontoise [L’astrée]. In addition, two trio sonatas have survived in manuscript: La Steinquerque and La superbe, both for two violins and continuo (Higginbottom 2001).
- Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, a student of J.S. Bach, composed five trio sonatas for 2 violins and continuo.
- George Frideric Handel, trio sonatas Opp. 2 and 5, all in sonata da chiesa form. The attribution to Handel of a set of trios for two oboes and continuo is false, and the authenticity of the three trios HWV 393, 394, and 395 is doubtful or uncertain. A trio sonata in F for two recorders and continuo, HWV 405, appears to be authentic (Hicks 2001).
- Jacques-Martin Hotteterre, Sonates en trio pour les flûtes traversières et a bec, violon, hautbois, Op. 3 (1712) (Giannini 2001)
- Pietro Antonio Locatelli, six Trio Sonatas, Op. 5, for two violins or two traversos and continuo (1736) (Locatelli 1736)
- Johann Pachelbel, Musikalische Ergötzung ("Musical Delight"), containing six suites for two violins and basso continuo, each commencing with a sonata, followed by a succession of dances. The violin parts use scordatura tuning. The sonatas are of two types. Nos. 1 and 3 are marked Allegro, and are fughettas. The remaining four are Adagio movements and are similar to French overtures, in two sections (Nolte, Butt, and Butler 2001).
- Henry Purcell, Twelve sonatas of three parts, 1683, ten sonatas in four parts, 1697, but both sets are scored for two violins, bass viol, and organ or harpsichord. In terms of style, Purcell's trio sonatas are conservative, modeled on the older generation of Italians (Giovanni Legrenzi, Lelio Colista, and Giovanni Battista Vitali) rather than Corelli or Giovanni Battista Bassani (Holman, Thompson, and Humphreys 2001).
- Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel, over 25 extant trio sonatas, including two for solo organ. Others for continuo (sometimes indicated as harpsichord) and diverse combinations of flute(s), violin(s), oboes or unspecified instruments (Stölzel & c.1750; Stölzel & c.1720–50; Stölzel & c.1740; Stölzel & c.1760a; Stölzel & c.1760b Stölzel & c.1770; Stölzel n.d.; Stölzel & c.1700–1799a; Stölzel & c.1700–1799b)
- Georg Philipp Telemann, around 150 trio sonatas (Anon. n.d.). The earliest sonatas exhibit the Corelli style most clearly, while later works anticipate the mid-century Empfindsamkeit and galant styles, or mix Italian, French, and Polish styles (Zohn 2001).
- Antonio Vivaldi, 12 trio sonatas da camera Op. 1, two trio sonatas mixed with solo sonatas in Op. 5, and thirteen unpublished trios. One further trio sonata, RV 80, in G major, for two flutes and continuo, is attributed to Vivaldi but is probably spurious (Talbot 2001c).
- Jan Dismas Zelenka, six sonatas, ZWV 181, composed around 1721–1722 (Zelenka & [1721–22]).
- Anon. 1949. "Bach Trio Sonata Heard". New York Times (31 January): 15.
- Anon. n.d. “Georg Philipp Telemann (1681–1767), Catalogue TWV: 42: Musique de chambre pour 2 instruments avec basse continue”. Musique et Musiciens / Music and Musicians, at Organlive.com (accessed 31 October 2016).[unreliable source?](in French)
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