**Edited to be on-topic...

Some resources I've found state that the recapitulation presents the first and/or second subject groups (in any order) in the tonic key.

Today a colleague questioned the 'and/or', on the grounds that the first subject group is occasionally omitted in the recapitulation, but not the second. His perspective was that the second subject group (or at least part of it) must be restated in the tonic key, and doing so helps to 'resolve' the work, since this has only ever been restated in a different key. By contrast, the first subject has already been stated in the tonic key, and is therefore already 'resolved', and can be omitted.

At a glance, his advice checks out - I can find examples of recaps with either both subjects, or the second subject only, but not with the first subject only.

My question is: is it possible for a recapitulation to exclusively restate the first subject (group), without restating the second subject (group)?

**Should clarify that I would discount examples of monothematic sonata form, since there is no distinct second subject to omit!

  • Very interesting question, but unfortunately off-topic (questions requesting the identification of a piece or requesting, in effect, a list of answers).
    – Aaron
    Oct 3, 2023 at 23:51
  • "I would discount examples of monothematic sonata form, since there is no distinct second subject to omit" - I would amplify that by questioning whether it's reasonable to consider such an example to be in sonata form in the first place. Oct 4, 2023 at 0:36
  • What I like about this notion is that it challenges the beginners' perception that the whole point of sonata form revolves around melodic material—"First theme, second theme, see them chopped up, see them repeated"—when a more productive model is that it's all about tonalities. "First tonal area, second tonal area" is a more useful terminology. I'm not sure whether I can follow this line of reasoning to the conclusion that the whole thing is an exercise in "redeeming the dominant"... but I like it. Oct 4, 2023 at 14:56

1 Answer 1


I'm not going to answer the question with examples, since that is off-topic, but I do have what I think is a "proof" of sorts of why there cannot be any examples.

First, a question: How do we know what the second subject group is in a sonata form? In the exposition of a sonata form piece or movement, we often hear more than two sets of related motives that could form subjects. The first one we hear is either an introduction or the first subject group, unless somehow it is not in the tonic, but this is unlikely.

Either way, suppose we have three to five excerpts in different tonal areas (e.g., dominant, relative major/minor, mediant/submediant) from the exposition that could be considered secondary subjects. The way we tell which one is the secondary subject is by looking at which one(s) appear in the recapitulation in the tonic key.

So, by definition, if it doesn't appear in the recap in the tonic key and also appear in the exposition in a key related to the tonic, then it's not a/the secondary subject.

Therefore, there cannot exist a sonata form piece or movement where the secondary subject does not appear in the recap. Any material not restated in the recap in the tonic key is not a secondary subject.

It is reasonable to counter this "proof" with an example that has two clearly important and distinct subject candidates in the exposition where the second one is stated in a related key and does not appear in the recapitulation. In response to that, I would raise the question of whether such a work is in sonata form in the first place. At some point, variations on the form will be distant enough that we can reasonably exclude them from the category entirely.

So, either a subject candidate appears in the exposition in a related key and the recapitulation in the tonic key, or the work might reasonably be considered to have a ternary or rounded binary form that is not the sonata form.

  • Thanks Todd! I think they're all good points. One wonders about the possibility of a situation where a clearly important subject candidate appeared in a related key in the exposition, then featured as a principal subject of transformation in the development section, but not in the recapitulation. Assuming the other structural markers (e.g. transitions, re-transitions, etc.) of sonata form were still present, I wouldn't be so quick to discount the overall form as sonata form, and would still raise the question as to whether that candidate qualified as a subject. Very hypothetical though...
    – mb_altho
    Oct 4, 2023 at 10:46
  • Just to stickle: of course an "examples only" answer isn't what we want, but I don't see the harm in examples as illustration or evidence. (Fwiw, I also don't think this original question was ever a "list question" at heart or would really have been satisfied by simple lists.) Oct 4, 2023 at 14:53

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