9th Biennial Conference on Baroque Music


The Sonate auf Concertenart and Conceptions of Genre in the Late Baroque

Steven Zohn

In recent writings about eighteenth-century musical genre, the Sonate auf Concertenart (sonata in concerto style) has assumed a prominent status. First discussed in connection with Bach’s sonatas (Marissen and Dreyfus), the genre was subsequently revealed to have enjoyed a vogue among German composers ca. 1720-40 (Swack). Most recently, David Schulenberg has argued that we have read too much into Scheibe’s theoretical discussion of the Sonate auf Concertenart; that, in fact, the genre is an invention of our postmodern culture. The sonata and concerto, he argues, were not clearly distinct genres in Germany before about 1720.

This paper begins by re-examining several of Swack’s and Schulenberg’s conclusions. A variety of evidence suggests, for example, that the concerto and sonata had come to be considered generically distinct by the 1710s. On title pages, concertos are rarely called “sonata,” and sonatas are generally called “concerto” only when in larger scorings or including devices normally restricted to orchestral genres (e.g. ritornello form, unison writing, and “hammerstroke” gestures). Nor do conflicting genre labels necessarily indicate copyists’ confusion as to a work’s generic status. I also demonstrate that the Sonate auf Concertenart was cultivated earlier and more widely than previously thought; a survey of Telemann’s works suggests that Vivaldi’s influence on German composers has been overstated. Interestingly, the genre enjoyed a second flowering in France, where several composers published examples after 1730. Far from being a postmodern invention, the mixed genre of the Sonate auf Concertenart arose from the same aesthetic impulses that inspired contemporaneous mixed literary genres, represented most famously by Gulliver’s Travels (1726).

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Last updated on 22 March 2000 by Yo Tomita