Sonata da chiesa (Italian for church sonata) is an instrumental composition dating from the Baroque period, generally consisting of four movements. More than one melody was often used, and the movements were ordered slow–fast–slow–fast with respect to tempo. The second movement was usually a fugal allegro, and the third and fourth were binary forms that sometimes resembled the sarabande and gigue.
It is often mistakenly believed these sonatas were composed to be performed in religious ceremonies. In fact, symphonies written in the Sonata da chiesa form were frequently played during Religious ceremonies, especially during the mass "at the Gradual, Offertory, Elevation and Communion as well as the Introit and Deo Gratias. They were also used as a substitute for antiphons during Vespers. They were not, however, written with an explicitly liturgical function, such as, for instance, a Requiem Mass. Symphonic works written in the sonata da chiesa were more often performed as concert pieces for entertainment.
One of the greatest exponents of the sonata da chiesa was the Ravennate Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713). Among his finest compositions are 6 Sonata da Chiesa, Op.1; dedicated to queen Christina of Sweden, who lived in Rome. The first 8 of his 12 Concerti grossi, op.6 are also sonatas da chiesa. Another composer of this form of music was Giovanni Battista Bassani who c. 1710 composed twelve sonatas da chiesa. The three solo violin sonatas of J. S. Bach are of the sonata da chiesa form, as are the first five of his six sonatas for violin and obbligato harpsichord, BWV 1014–1019.
After 1700 this type of sonata tended to merge with the sonata da camera. The sonata da chiesa had become outdated by the time of Joseph Haydn (1732–1809), although he did compose a few of his early symphonies in this style (slow-fast-minuet-fast). Later, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would compose seventeen "church sonatas", but these served a different purpose. Mozart's works were single-movement organ and strings pieces that were played during the celebration of the Mass between the Epistle and the Gospel.