Cadenza, sonata, concerto, symphony - what are the other differences apart from length? Which ones can contain which other ones? When did they come into existence as distinct forms?

  • "one of these terms is not like the others..." ( hint: cadenza) Jun 23, 2020 at 15:18

1 Answer 1


The first I've learnt here was the difference of cadenza and cadence. Cadenza is the passage of the soloist in a concerto after the reprise in the pause of the orchestra. What you mean is cadence. Look up in wikipedia the perfect and authentic cadence (etc.)

The cadence is nothing else than the chord progression of tonic, subdominant, dominant, tonic. (This was my first composition ... when I "found out" this structure. And in 3/4 time it was my 1. Waltz op. 1 ;)

You'd better ask what is common of Sonata, Concerto and Symphonies:

It is the structure of the model of composition, the type and succession of movements like Sonata form, Adagio (Liedform), Menuet (or Scherzo) and the last movement which can be again a sonata form, a rondo, or a variation setting.

The differences are: (my answer is concerning the classical era)

A sonata is a piece for 1,2,3 instruments composed in the construction described above.

A symphony is the similar composition like a sonata but for a chamber orchestra or a full orchestra.

A (classical) Concerto can be explained as a Symphony for a solo instrument (or more) and a full orchestra.

The same is true for a string quartet. Trios and piano trios in classical are composed in the same way.

Different from the classical form are the sonatas - and sinfonias - and concertos in the Baroque era (or earlier!). (s. Concerto grosso, Suites, church and chamber sonatas.

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    Might add that sonatas are "usually" sonata-allegro form in 3 movements while concertos, even if for two instruments, are "usually" 4 movements. Jun 23, 2020 at 15:19
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    "String quartet" defines the musician group, and is orthogonal to the kind of musical piece being played Jun 23, 2020 at 15:20
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    @CarlWitthoft - That sounds inaccurate. It's concertos that are "usually" in 3 movements (possibly due to how convoluted concerto 1st-movement form can get). I've listened to a ton of 4-movement sonatas and symphonies, while I've been having a tough time finding any 4-movement concertos. I also wouldn't say that "string quartet" is completely orthogonal to what that group plays--I don't tend to see that term get used for Baroque suites, for example.
    – Dekkadeci
    Jun 25, 2020 at 9:44
  • I’ve tried to answer this question - without consulting any books or wikipedia - with my own words regarding the classic period an under the aspect of form and instruments. If you find something inaccurate it can easily be proofed on wikipedia consulting the terms above. Jun 25, 2020 at 13:19

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