trio sonata

The trio sonata is a musical form which was particularly popular around the 17th century and the 18th century.

A trio sonata is written for two solo melodic instruments and basso continuo, making three parts in all, hence the name trio sonata. However, because the basso continuo is usually made up of at least two instruments (typically a cello or bass viol and a keyboard instrument such as the harpsichord), trio sonatas are typically performed by at least four musicians. The trio sonatas by Arcangelo Corelli (opus I, 1681, opus III, 1689) set an inspiring example.

The melody instruments used are usually both violins. A well-known exception is the trio sonata in Johann Sebastian Bach's The Musical Offering, which is for violin and flute.

Johann Sebastian Bach's trio sonatas for organ (BWV 525-530) combine all three parts on one instrument. Typically the right hand, left hand and pedals will each take a different part thus creating the same texture as in a trio. For obvious reasons, these six trios have been transcribed for four musicians in recent times. A further innovation of Bach was the creation of what are strictly trio sonatas, involving a concertante (obligato) harpsichord part and one melodic instrument, thus for two players. Known examples are the six sonatas for harpsichord and solo violin (BWV 1014-1019), three sonatas for harpsichord and viola da gamba (BWV 1027-1029) and the three sonatas for harpsichord and flauto traverso (BWV 1030-1032)

Example repertoire

  • Tomaso Albinoni 12 sonatas da chiesa op.1 and 12 sonatas da camera op.8
  • Arcangelo Corelli 24 sonatas da chiesa op.1 and op.3, 24 sonatas da camera op.2 and op.4.
  • Henry Purcell Twelve sonatas of three parts, 1683, ten sonatas in four parts, 1697 (both sets for two violins and BC)
  • Johann Sebastian Bach, trio sonatas BWV 1036–1039. Some of these are of doubtful attribution, but all are typical of baroque chamber music. They are written for basso continuo and two violins, except 1039 which is written for two flutes and basso continuo (which concurs with BWV 1027).
  • Dieterich Buxtehude, Op. 1, Six trio sonatas and Op. 2, Seven trio sonatas. Scored for violin, viola da gamba and basso continuo. These were Buxtehude's only works that were published during his lifetime.
  • George Frideric Handel trio sonatas op.2 and op.5
  • Georg Philipp Telemann around 150 trio sonatas, most in the Corelli style.
  • Johann Pachelbel, Musikalische Ergötzung ("Musical Delight"), containing 6 trio sonatas for two violins and basso continuo. Original score in scordatura.
  • Antonio Vivaldi, 12 trio sonatas da camera op.1 and 2 sonatas op.5.
  • Jan Dismas Zelenka, Six trio (or quartet) sonatas, ZWV 181. Scored for two oboes, bassoon and basso continuo. These are technically difficult pieces, containing some extremely demanding bassoon and oboe parts.


  • The Italian "Trio" Sonata, From Its Origins Until Corelli Peter Allsop, Oxford University Press 1992 ISBN 0-19-816229-4 (en)
  • La sonata a tre Christopher Hogwood, Edition BBC 1976 (en)
  • Italian Violin Music of the Seventeenth Century Willi Apel ISBN 0253306833 (en)
  • Die Triosonate Erich Schenk 1970 et 2005, Laaber Verlag ISBN 3-89007-623-8 (de)
  • ''Music an Appreciation ROGER KAMIEN, Edition Sixth Brief (en)

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