Analysing Classical Sonatas - The Sentence

Updated: Apr 5, 2020


Schoenberg was the first theorists in forging the concept of sentence. The Sentence is a type of theme. Themes are made up of phrases. The sentence according to Schoemberg contains two phrases:

  1. Presentation

  2. Continuation

, but uses three functions:

  1. Presentation

  2. Continuation

  3. Cadential

The sentence, by definition, comprises 8 real measures and begins with a presentation phrase. The presentation phrase starts with a basic idea which is then repeated. The basic idea’s repetition can be labeled as:

  1. Exact

  2. Statement - response

  3. Sequential

The main harmonic progression of the presentation is tonic prolongational.

The presentation phrase is then followed by a continuation one which is made up of a continuation plus a cadential functions.


The basic idea

With 2 measures, the basic idea is:

  1. Big enough to contain motives

  2. Small enough to build up phrases

The melodic content used for a basic idea should be described as characteristic. Melodic content can be:

  1. Characteristic: it uniquely defines a theme as an individual

  2. Conventional: used for passage work

The basic idea is much more than its tunes. To correctly identify the basic idea, it is important to check if all its main features are present.

Type of repetitions

Exact: The harmonic support is kept intact. The melodic line can be transposed.

Statement- response: The statement and response can also be termed a tonic version and a dominant version respectively.

Sequential repetition / model-sequence technique: Both the melody and the harmony are transposed by the same interval and direction. Because the overall harmonic support of a presentation phrase must be tonic prolongational, sequential repetition (with its implied sequential progression) is rarely used at the beginning of the sentence. When it is, the sense of a broader tonic prolongation usually emerges at some later point within the theme.

To define the type of repetition used both the harmony and the melody should be assessed.

Harmonic sequence is a particular way of arranging a succession of harmonies according to a consistent root motion (such as descending fifths, or ascending steps). Model-sequence technique is a form of repetition: a given unit (model) is repeated through a complete transposition of its content (sequence).

Tonic prolongation

The presentation phrase always involve a tonic-prolongational progression. If the response version of the basic idea is supported by the dominant, then we will find the recapping tonic later on in the theme.


We can identify and differentiate the continuation phrase from the presentation phrase mainly due to one, some or all the following 4 features:

  1. Fragmentation: The process of making the 2m unit (basic idea) shorter. These fragments will be made clearer through repetition.

  2. Acceleration of the harmonic rhythm

  3. Acceleration of the surface rhythmic activity: Particularly effective in the absence of harmonic acceleration

  4. Sequential harmonies: Are very rarely used in simple 8m sentences. They are more commonly used in extended sentences.


Cadence types

Perfect Authentic Cadence (PAC): it ends in the tonic
Imperfect Authentic Cadence (IAC): it ends most commonly on the third
Half Cadence (HC): it ends in the dominant

The melodic contour of the cadence is typically descending as opposite to the presentation one which is ascending.

During the cadential function, the liquidation process will become prominent. The liquidation process affects the characteristic melody in particular

Expanded cadential progression (ECP)

An ECP occurs when the cadential function takes over the continuation one. It most commonly happens when a cadential progression starts on m. 5.

It is notated with ECP at the lower right of the first harmony in the progression.

Modulating Sentence

Modulating Sentence

Sometimes the sentence can modulate to a neighbouring key region, most commonly the dominant.

This article is one in a sequence of summaries about Classical Music analysis. All the information is taken from William Caplin's "Classical Music Forms". After careful analysis, I have choosen his work as my main source of information and paradigm-to-follow for my haydn Sonata analysis.

#Haydnproject #HaydnProject #musictheoryatwkmt #Caplin

399 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
Markson's Pianos

Juan Rezzuto and/or WKMT is a member of


Since 2010 we prepare students for exams at



40 Kensington Hall Gardens,

Beaumont Avenue,

London W14 9LT

Tel: 02071014479


79 Brisbane Street,

London SE5 7NJ

242 Lucey way,

London SE16 3UG


Rua Bispo Fernandez de Castro No. 11

Mondoñedo, Lugo, 27740

  • Wix Facebook page
  • Instagram
  • YouTube
  • LinkedIn App Icon
  • Blogger
  • Wix Twitter page

© 2012 by Juan J. Rezzuto. All the tracks, scores and articles you can find in here are copyright.