Recorded on 06/10/2009, uploaded on 08/06/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
The lesser among his many compositions for the piano, Chopin composed three sonatas for the instrument throughout his career. Though a master of the miniature, the large-scale structural designs required by the sonata were somewhat of a challenge to the composer. His second sonata, that in B-flat minor and the first to be published, was ill-received by critics for its lack of apparent cohesion. Even Robert Schumann, who often praised Chopin’s music, remarked that Chopin had “simply bound together four of his most unruly children.” The third sonata in B minor followed five years later. Some think the work to be Chopin’s attempt to address the criticisms of his earlier sonata. Whether this was of any concern to Chopin or not is unknown. However, it is evident that the third and last of the composer’s piano sonatas shows that during the intervening time Chopin made great strides in his handling of large musical forms.
Looking past the florid writing of the Allegro maestoso first movement, one can see Chopin the Classicist in its well-formulated sonata structure. An impetuous, motivic first theme in B minor is eloquently contrasted by a lyrical second subject in the relative major—a theme that itself could have possibly served as the starting point for a gentle Nocturne—and fulfilling the expected dichotomy of the sonata form. Utilizing elements from both themes, the development section is highly contrapuntal. The development passes seamlessly into the recapitulation. Indeed, the reprise of the second theme in the tonic major is heard before it is even fully realized that the recapitulation is already underway. The movement’s coda remains in the major key through to the final measures.
Unlike Chopin’s other specimens in the genre, the Scherzo second movement is surprisingly short. In the distant key of E-flat major, the Scherzo portion itself passes hurriedly by in a dazzling display of finger-work for the performer. The centerpiece of the movement, however, is the sustained Trio back in the key of B major. Adopting a chordal texture, the Trio’s pensive melody remains fixed in an inner voice.
Thunderous octaves open the Largo third movement. Yet, once the introduction fades away into the ensuing beautiful cantabile melody, the tempestuous utterance is not heard again. Once again returning to the key of B major, the principle melody establishes an atmosphere of calm and serenity. The middle episode, changing to the key of E major, maintains a similar expression adding to it one of reflection. Here, a chorale-like melody sounds from the upper voice over a sturdy bass and gently rolling arpeggios. A reprise of the opening B major section, somewhat embellished, rounds out the movement’s ternary design.
Lastly, the Presto finale fulfills a long awaited return to the key of B minor. After an introduction of a chromatically rising bass from the dominant to the leading tone, the finale’s principle melody takes flight in a galloping 6/8 rhythm. In contrast, the secondary theme, in B major, shines with radiant brilliance. Both themes are repeated and the movement takes on a sort of rondo-like form. Interestingly, the reprise of the second theme occurs in the key of E-flat major, recalling the choice of key for the earlier Scherzo. An exhilarating coda, based largely around the material of the second theme, brings Chopin’s finale sonata to a spectacular close in B major. Joseph DuBose
Courtesy of International Music Foundation.
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