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This is one thing that I have always noticed when I compose a sonata. Even if I can get through most of the development section in sonata form, the dominant preparation sort of grinds my gears. I'm like "I need to stay on the dominant and add tension, but not too long obviously. It could easily become boring. Or worse, I end up using a diminished chord and it doesn't want to resolve to the tonic."

Since I am composing a sonata in Bb, the dominant is F. I have a theme in the exposition in the key of F. So how can I make the dominant preparation not so boring? After all, the sonata I am composing is one in Mozart's style. If I were composing a Beethoven style sonata, I could potentially forgo the dominant preparation and go straight into the tonic and start the recapitulation. But if I am composing in Mozart's style, I need that dominant preparation.

So how can I make the dominant preparation not boring nor ending up with a diminished chord(out of the 2 tense triads, the augmented triad I only really see in more recent music, whereas the diminished chord I see as early as Mozart and Haydn) that doesn't resolve to the tonic?

  • To my knowledge, most to nearly all of Beethoven's sonata-form works have substantial dominant preparations. I don't recommend skipping the dominant prep if you want to compose like Beethoven. – Dekkadeci Dec 17 '18 at 7:48
  • Also, diminished chords (or vii° chords, at least) tend to want to resolve to the tonic. Don't be afraid to use them. – Dekkadeci Dec 17 '18 at 7:57
  • I have heard that the dominant preparation in Beethoven's Moonlight sonata and really the entire development section of it is really short. – Caters Dec 17 '18 at 23:28
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So you are talking about the dominant preparation after the development section just before the recapitulation. OK. Here are different ideas:

1) If the dominant preparation is boring because it is too long, make it shorter. Can be as short as one bar or even half a bar if it is 4/4 although I think that is rare. Mozart makes both long and short dominant preparations.

2) Make the last bar in the dominant preparation a right hand only bar. Let the right hand figure go into the recapitulation. Mozart does that often.

3) End the dominant preparation on a dominant chord followed by a pause. Then follows the recapitulation after the break. Mozart does that in at least 2 sonatas, one of them has a fermata above the rest. the other one doesn't.

4) Instead of a recapitulation in tonic make it in the subdominant. This is rare but Mozart does that in at least one of his piano sonatas (C major sonata, sonata number 15 in my book). In this sonata there is no dominant preparation, instead there is a subdominant's dominant preparation which is only half a bar.

5) Instead of a recapitulation to the first theme turn around the sequence of the two themes from the exposition. Mozart does that in at least one piano sonata.

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Regarding your note on Beethoven. Beethoven can have very long dominant preparations. In the C minor sonata "Pathetique", 1st movement, the dominant preparation takes 28 bars before the tonic recapitulation.

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Here are some of my tips for making dominant preparations more interesting. I believe these can be used and still make your music sound like Mozart:

  • Don't just use dominant-function chords. Throw in vi and/or (b)VI chords. After those, try IV or iv chords. Heck, try secondary dominant chords, too.
  • Try increasing the note rate (not the tempo) the later in the dominant preparation you are. For example, if you use only 8th notes in the early stages, throw in 16th notes in the later bars.
  • Try changing the overall register of your notes later in the dominant preparation. Lars Peter Schultz already provided an example with "Make the last bar in the dominant preparation a right hand only bar", but you can also try dropping your passages an octave instead.
  • Dynamics changes definitely help make dominant preparations sound less boring, too. Try a slow crescendo, especially if your recapitulation is loud.

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