Torroba Sonatina (First Movement) Analysis of Sonata Form

Federico Moreno Torroba’s (1891-1982) Sonatina in A major is certainly a staple in the repertory for classical guitar. Although a twentieth century composition, the harmonic language is more characteristic of late nineteenth century and as a consequence lends itself nicely to traditional harmonic analysis.

The work consists of three movements. I will examine the first. Since this music is still under copyright protection my analysis does not include the complete score as was possible with the Sor, Tarrega and Carcassi works. Instead I have included the harmonic analysis only, with cue notes on the first beat of each measure so it will be possible to easily follow along with your published score.

Let’s get right to it and discuss the harmonic and formal points of interest.

The form is ternary, A-B-A, and follows a condensed sonata form, hence Sonatina:

A: Exposition (mm. 1-30) consisting of a main theme section in the tonic key of A major (mm. 1-16) and a secondary theme subsection (mm. 17-30) in the dominant key of E major.

B: Development (mm. 33-60) where most of the really interesting harmony appears.

A: Recapitulation (mm. 61-100) in which the main theme and secondary theme are restated but this time both appear in the tonic key of A major.

The A section (exposition) contains some interesting harmonic features:

1) The extensive use of the augmented sixth chord (Gr+6). Torroba’s spelling of the chord is not always consistent. Sometimes it is spelled as an augmented sixth chord and other times as a dominant seventh. Many times this makes sense in the context of the voice-leading, as in measure six where the parallel descending chromatic sixths occur between the upper two voices. In this context using Eb rather than D# in the spelling of the augmented sixth chord is clearer since this voice moves down by half-step to the D-natural (seventh) in the following E7 chord rather than the traditional resolution up one half-step to E. This would be typical of the way this harmony, known as the “tritone substitution”, is used in jazz. The spelling discrepancies could also be due to editorial changes as I have seen different spellings in different editions.

2) The implied and direct use of extended harmonic structures (7th, 9th, 11th and 13th chords). Also notice the chord of the added sixth (D6) in measures ten and twelve.

The B section (development) of course contains the most adventurous harmonic content and was the most difficult to determine an analysis that made sense.

1) The high E in measure thirty-two that is sustained into measure thirty-three serves as a common tone to bridge the two distant keys of A major and C major. This is usually referred to as a “common-tone modulation”. Since the chord of emphasis is E minor I also indicated E Phrygian as a modal key in this section (mm. 33-36).

2) The next section (mm. 37-47) was the most puzzling. I had trouble understanding the function of the half-diminished seventh chords (m7b5). The key turned out to be thinking of them as rootless dominant ninth chords as you commonly do in jazz harmony. The progression then made perfect sense as a series of dominants V/V to V to I in G major (V of C major).

3) In measure forty-eight we get an unexpected and beautiful chromatic modulation to E major where the G7 chord does not resolve to C as we would expect. If we examine the voice-leading here we can see that the note G moves up one half-step to G# and the note F moves down one half-step to E (with the note B as a common-tone) to form the E major triad. The dominant pedal-point “B” (mm. 48-51) is also noteworthy.

3) The return to tonic is accomplished with the introduction of the augmented sixth chord (Gr+6) in measure fifty-two which changes the function of the E major triad from tonic to dominant. This return to A major is further reinforced with the introduction of the D major triad (retrogression) in measure fifty-five.

The final A section (recapitulation) with short coda added brings back the main theme and secondary theme in the tonic (A major) as stated earlier.

1) Notice the basic transposition of the harmony of the secondary theme or subsection from dominant (E major) to tonic (A major).

2) The short coda (mm. 91-100) ties things up in the tonic key. The D major triad (IV) in first inversion in measure eighty-nine to the German augmented sixth chord in measure ninety, incorporating a chromatically descending bass line (F#-F-and finally E in measure ninety-one), strongly prepares the dominant to begin the coda. Remember that the tonic in second inversion in a cadential context is dominant with a double appoggiatura.

The first movement of the Sonatina in A major is a textbook example of sonata form with which most guitarists are familiar. Use it as a model for understanding sonata form in larger works by the great composers of the eighteenth and nineteenth century as well as many examples, like this one, written in the twentieth!

Please see the pdf file below which contains the analysis in score form.

SonatinaAnalysis.pdf

4 comments

  • jose arrboleda
    jose arrboleda
    Nice analisis.

    Nice analisis.

  • Christian Laremont
    Christian Laremont
    A very practical analysis and thanks for sharing the pdf.

    A very practical analysis and thanks for sharing the pdf.

  • Paul Needham
    Paul Needham
    Could you say something about the third movement. In particular, what about the tuning of the 6th string? There are some low Ds that would require the D-tuning from the second movement to remain in place. But there are also low Es that seem impossible to play together with chords in higher positions unless on an open 6th. Can you shed some light on this? Paul

    Could you say something about the third movement. In particular, what about the tuning of the 6th string? There are some low Ds that would require the D-tuning from the second movement to remain in place. But there are also low Es that seem impossible to play together with chords in higher positions unless on an open 6th.

    Can you shed some light on this?

    Paul

  • Jorge
    Jorge
    Hi Paul, As you stated, it's impossible to play this movement with the 6 string tuned in D, so we need to focus on the passages with the low D you refer. I think this happens only 'one time', in measure 11 and in his two repetitions. 'Sonatina' was one of Torroba's first works for the guitar so it's possible that he forgot, in this particular case, the tuning of the guitar or his tessitura. As some master told me years ago - and if you don't have a 7-10th strings guitar- you can simply play an E instead of the D. I hope I could help.

    Hi Paul,

    As you stated, it's impossible to play this movement with the 6 string tuned in D, so we need to focus on the passages with the low D you refer. I think this happens only 'one time', in measure 11 and in his two repetitions. 'Sonatina' was one of Torroba's first works for the guitar so it's possible that he forgot, in this particular case, the tuning of the guitar or his tessitura. As some master told me years ago - and if you don't have a 7-10th strings guitar- you can simply play an E instead of the D. I hope I could help.

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