Recorded on 09/29/2008, uploaded on 03/09/2010
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Grave, Doppio movimento -- Scherzo -- Marche Funèbre -- Presto
Chopin’s second attempt at the genre, though first to be published, the Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat was primarily composed in 1839. The famous Funeral March that forms the third movement and gives the sonata its nickname was actually composed two years earlier in 1837. Although a valiant attempt at the large-scale structures that any extensive multi-movement work demands, the Second Sonata confounded many listeners. Robert Schumann, who typically praised Chopin as one of the foremost artists of the early Romantic era, failed to find a sense of cohesion between the movements of the sonata remarking that Chopin “had simply bound together four of his most unruly children.” Even until present times, the work’s internal logic has remained somewhat of enigma.
The first movement opens with a brief Grave introduction and a descending diminished seventh reminiscent of Beethoven’s last piano sonata. After only four measures, however, Chopin breaks into the turbulent first theme of the sonata form movement. Though a master of the miniature, he was more than capable in handling the highest and profoundest of musical forms. Offsetting the agitato principal theme is a lyrical second subject in D-flat major, embodying a yearning expectation. The principal theme dominates the complex development section, although, the second theme does make its presence known in the form of triplet quarter notes against the principal theme’s eighth-note rhythms. Because of this, a full reprise of the first theme is avoided in the recapitulation and the development instead leads into a return of the second theme in the key of B-flat major, in which key the movement concludes.
The fiery Scherzo second movement changes to the key of E-flat minor. Chiefly motivic with an unsettling rhythm, it proceeds on with an almost devilish fury. The Trio section provides a drastic contrast, changing to the key of the relative major and featuring one of Chopin’s many lyrical melodies. Though certainly brighter in character than the Scherzo, the Trio is, nonetheless, tinged with a sort of sadness. A reprise of the Scherzo completes the movement. However, at its conclusion the music slowly subsides into a brief restatement of the Trio—a lingering thought on which the movement ends.
As mentioned before, the Funeral March third is the most famous part of the sonata. Returning to the key of the first movement, the movement’s theme, one of the most recognizable melodies of classical music, sounds over a doleful accompaniment low in the piano’s range. Also cast in a ternary form, the March’s trio section shifts to the relative major. Gentle arpeggios in the left hand accompany a lyrical melody in the right, like a song in honor of the fallen hero.
The finale, a terse and furious movement, comes somewhat as a jolt after the mournful third movement and perhaps it was this movement that caused critics to question the cohesion of the sonata as a whole. The entire movement, though brief, passes by in an endless whirlwind of triplet eighths, in octaves between the two hands, giving it more the character of a finger exercise than a movement in a sonata. However, this has not prevented some performers from justifying its existence with colorful imagery. Arthur Rubinstein is said to have described the movement as the “wind howling around the gravestones.” Nevertheless, it forms an unusual conclusion to the passionate declarations of the three prior movements. Unwavering in tempo and dynamic, the movement concludes abruptly with a fortissimo tonic chord. Joseph DuBose
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