Manchester, 14th-18th July 2004


Gregory Barnett (Rice University, Houston, USA)

Concerning the sonata da chiesa

In recent scholarship, the term "sonata da chiesa" has been shown to appear far less frequently among the printed titles of seventeenth-century composers than was previously supposed  This raises the question of function: if the term "sonata da chiesa" was uncommon, why should we believe that certain sonatas, which were only later assumed to be da chiesa, werechurch music?  My paper takes up this question by investigating the terminology of sonata genres during the latter half of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth. Using the phenomenon described by linguists as "markedness" in order to study the pair of terms that do occur regularly in the sonata repertory—"sonata" (unmarked) and "sonata da camera" (marked)—I argue for the implicit suggestion of churchliness in the unmarked term sonata.  The term sonata da chiesa is simply a later and more explicit equivalent that came to be used in place of sonata beginning in the 1680s and '90s.  This reading is supported by publishers' catalogs that show the change in terminology used to describe a fixed repertory of pieces, from sonata to sonata da chiesa, and by the testimony of sonata  composers, who, while making a distinction betweensacred and secular styles and associating the sacred with the (unmarked) sonata, also make clear that the performance of suchsonatas transcended any one venue.  The sonata (da chiesa) may therefore be understood as stylistically appropriate for use in church, and, simultaneously, a multipurpose work in practice.

Last updated on 09 May 2004