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A sonata is a specialized musical form written for instruments rather than voices. Over the course of the 18th-century in Central Europe, the sonata became a highly evolved form of music in which every serious composition for solo piano, chamber music ensemble, or symphony orchestra was written. While sonata composition reached its height of importance around the turn of the 19th-century, it left a substantial imprint on the formal thinking of Western composers throughout the next two centuries, and its principles are still taught worldwide today to students in all disciplines of classical music.
The term sonata in common usage can have one or more of three different meanings:
- The general title for a large work written for instruments, often with piano or for piano solo, and until the late 19th-century implying multiple movements in contrasting tempi.
- The multi-movement plan of such a work, either in three movements (fast-slow-fast), or in four (fast-slow-minuet or scherzo-fast).
- The specific form or principle usually employed in the first movement of such a work, though also often used in other movements of the work. (See main article: Sonata form)