Solo Instrumental

Solo instrumental music has evolved dramatically over the centuries. Solo instrumental repertoire consists of sonatas, concertos, etudes, preludes, ricercars, partitas and numerous other forms. The most comprehensive timeline of the history of solo instrumental music lies in the sonata and the concerto.

The word sonata developed from the meaning of simply ‘played’, while cantata meant ‘sung’. Sonatas went through massive change in the Baroque era, along with the concerto.

In the Baroque period the sonata was composed for a solo instrument accompanied by various other instruments. Scarlatti composed over 500 works for solo harpsichord. In the late Baroque period, sonatas became more defined as a work for solo instrument, or one main instrument accompanied by keyboard. The vast corpus of solo sonatas by Bach, for instance, are a great reminder of the virtuosity that Bach was capable of at the keyboard. He also composed solo sonata as partitas for violin and cello.


The main composers of concertos in the Baroque era were Albinoni, Vivaldi, Telemann, Bach, Handel, Locatelli, Tartini and Quantz.

The concerto became a very decisive form in the classical period. Mozart wrote concertos for each of the woodwind instruments flute, clarinet, bassoon and oboe, as well as five violin concertos and 27 piano concertos.

In the romantic era, there was a huge amount of solo repertoire written with the rise of the virtuoso and the public demand for breathtaking displays of outstanding technique. Franz Liszt and Frederic Chopin composed impressive solo piano repertoire and thanks to the renowned virtuoso violinists Paganini (pictured above), Joseph Joachim and Pablo de Sarasate, to name a few, the violin received lots of attention as a solo instrument. Dvorak’s cello concerto remains one of the gems of the cello repertoire and Schumann’s cello concerto focuses of the cello’s expressive capabilities. This was also the period in which improvements in the building of wind instruments led to renewed possibilities that led to increasingly impressive solo woodwind and brass repertoire.

In the 20th century, many masterpieces were created such as Rachmaninov’s monumental piano concertos, Elgar’s violin and cello concertos, Sibelius and Bartok’s violin concertos and Nielsen’s clarinet concerto.

The twentieth century gave rise to the emergence of works for solo instruments that would have been unheard of in Beethoven’s time. In the current day, percussion, contrabassoon or bandoneon, to name a few, are equally likely to have new solo works composed for them as a violin or a piano.

..a huge amount of solo repertoire written with the rise of the virtuoso...