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Trio sonata: Wikis


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The trio sonata is a musical form which was particularly popular around the 17th century and the 18th century.

A trio sonata is written for two solo melodic instruments and basso continuo, making three parts in all, hence the name trio sonata. However, because the basso continuo is usually made up of at least two instruments (typically a cello or bass viol and a keyboard instrument such as the harpsichord), trio sonatas are typically performed by at least four musicians. The trio sonatas by Arcangelo Corelli (opus I, 1681, opus III, 1689) set an inspiring example.

The melody instruments used are often both violins. A well-known exception is the trio sonata in Johann Sebastian Bach's The Musical Offering, which is for violin and flute.

Johann Sebastian Bach's trio sonatas for organ (BWV 525-530) combine 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. These six trios have been transcribed for four musicians in recent times. A further innovation of Bach was the creation of what are strictly trio sonatas, involving a concertante (obligato) harpsichord part and one melodic instrument, thus for two players. Known examples are the six sonatas for harpsichord and solo violin (BWV 1014-1019), three sonatas for harpsichord and viola da gamba (BWV 1027-1029) and the three sonatas for harpsichord and flauto traverso (BWV 1030-1032)

Example repertoire

  • Tomaso Albinoni 12 sonatas da chiesa op.1 and 12 sonatas da camera op.8
  • Arcangelo Corelli 24 sonatas da chiesa op.1 and op.3, 24 sonatas da camera op.2 and op.4.
  • Henry Purcell Twelve sonatas of three parts, 1683, ten sonatas in four parts, 1697 (both sets for two violins and BC)
  • Johann Sebastian Bach, trio sonatas BWV 1036–1039. Some of these are of doubtful attribution, but all are typical of baroque chamber music. They are written for basso continuo and two violins, except 1039 which is written for two flutes and basso continuo (which concurs with BWV 1027).
  • Dieterich Buxtehude, Op. 1, Six trio sonatas and Op. 2, Seven trio sonatas. Scored for violin, viola da gamba and basso continuo. These were Buxtehude's only works that were published during his lifetime.
  • George Frideric Handel trio sonatas op.2 and op.5
  • Georg Philipp Telemann around 150 trio sonatas, most in the Corelli style.
  • Johann Pachelbel, Musikalische Ergötzung ("Musical Delight"), containing 6 trio sonatas for two violins and basso continuo. Original score in scordatura.
  • Antonio Vivaldi, 12 trio sonatas da camera op.1 and 2 sonatas op.5.
  • Jan Dismas Zelenka, Six trio (or quartet) sonatas, ZWV 181. Scored for two oboes, bassoon and basso continuo. These are technically difficult pieces, containing some extremely demanding bassoon and oboe parts. The fourth sonata from the set (G minor) can be heard at the Brightcecilia Classical Music Forums.


  • Allsop, Peter. The Italian "Trio" Sonata, From Its Origins Until Corelli, Oxford University Press 1992 ISBN 0-19-816229-4 (en)
  • Hogwood, Christopher. La sonata a tre, Edition BBC 1976 (en)
  • Kamien, Roger. Music an Appreciation, Edition Sixth Brief (en)
  • Schenk, Erich. Die Triosonate 1970 et 2005, Laaber Verlag ISBN 3-89007-623-8 (de)
  • Apel, Willi. Italian Violin Music of the Seventeenth Century . ISBN 0253306833 (en)

Simple English

A trio sonata is a type of music for three instruments which was very popular during the 17th century and early 18th century: the period known as the Baroque period.

A trio sonata is written for three voices (three parts), in other words, it can be played by three different instruments. The two upper voices share the same musical themes. They often imitate one another. They are of equal importance. The third part, the lowest part, is played by basso continuo, which means the accompaniment. This continuo is usually played by two instruments: typically a cello or bass viol and a keyboard instrument such as the harpsichord. That makes four players, of course. However, the harpsichord player’s left hand notes are the same as the cello’s notes. This is the “third” part of the trio.

Some of the best trio sonatas are those by Arcangelo Corelli. His collection of trio sonatas numbered opus 1 and 3 are sonata da chiesa: four movements (slow-fast-slow-fast) finishing with a fugue. His op 2 and 4 sonatas are sonata da camera type: each movement is a kind of dance. Corelli’s trio sonatas are for two violins and continuo.

The trio sonata by Johann Sebastian Bach that belongs to the The Musical Offering is for violin, flute and continuo.

Bach also wrote six trio sonatas for organ. These are played by one player. The organist’s two hands each play on different manuals (keyboards) so that they sound like two different instruments. The organist’s feet play the third part on the pedals. Each part is strictly a single line (no chords, never more than three notes at a time) so that these works can also be played by other instruments (e.g. two violins and cello with harpsichord).

Bach also wrote sonatas for one melodic instrument and harpsichord. These pieces are really trio sonatas, although he does not call them trio sonatas. The melodic instrument (normally violin or flute) plays the top part, the harpsichordist plays the second part with his right hand, and the third part is the lowest part of his left hand notes.

Some other composers who wrote trio sonatas are Tomaso Albinoni, Henry Purcell, Dieterich Buxtehude, George Frideric Handel, Georg Philipp Telemann, Johann Pachelbel and Antonio Vivaldi.


  • Groves Dictionary of Music & Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie; London 1980, ISBN 1-56159-174-2


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