It is to A. B. Marx that we owe the first extended discussion of sonata form and a conception of it that has survived in classrooms and rehearsal halls to this day. At the same time, Marx’s Sonatenform and his treatment of it are beset with what seem to be serious flaws, chief among which is the absence of a single example of a complete movement from existing music that embodies the form.
Taking the perceived weaknesses of his discussion as a starting point, I argue that they are in fact the result of an ambitious and sophisticated approach to form, which depends on a more thorough understanding of the larger body of Marx’s theory of forms, and specifically of the forms immediately preceding sonata form in Marx’s discussion.
As a consequence, it is possible not only to reassess the apparent shortcomings of Marx’s original formulation but also to see sonata form itself less as a mere codification of formal elements than as a means of coming to terms with the music it considers.