Chopin's Piano Sonata in B Flat Minor Opus 35 - Compositional background



His creation was spontaneous, miraculous. He found ideas without looking for them, without foreseeing them. They came to his piano, sudden, complete, sublime - or sang in his head while he was taking a walk, and he had to hurry and throw himself at the instrument to make himself hear them. But then began a labour more heartbreaking than I have ever seen... He shut himself up in his room for whole days, weeping, walking about, breaking his pens, repeating or altering a measure a hundred times, writing it down and erasing it as often, and starting over the next day with a scrupulous and desperate perseverance. He would spend six weeks on one page, only to return to it and write it just as he had on the first draft...[4]


Sand is also known for the telling of the morbid visions that haunted Chopin while he sketched out his opus 35 piano sonata in Majorca.[5]


Little could Chopin have known of the impending impact of this sonata. In fact, in a letter to his compatriot Julian Fontana dated Thursday August 1839, Chopin wrote:


Here I am writing a Sonata in B Flat minor, containing the march that you know. There is an allegro, then a Scherzo in E Flat minor, the march and a short finale, perhaps 3 of my pages; the left hand in unison with the right, gossiping after the march. I have a new nocturne...[6]


The matter-of-fact manner in which Chopin writes about his new sonata is quite astonishing. The finale lasts around seventy seconds and concludes a work of more than twenty minutes' duration. Jeremy Siepmann maintains that this movement, "which Chopin so casually dismisses as gossip, may well constitute the most enigmatic movement in the entire history of the sonata idea."[7] The sheer volume of critical commentary that this movement has evoked is substantial.


Chopin's sonata opus 35 was first published in 1840 by Breitkopf & Härtel, and was sometimes referred to as Chopin's "first sonata" as it was the first of all his sonatas to


[4] Gavoty, Bernard. Frederic Chopin, tr. Sokolinsky, M. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1977), p. 234.

[5] ibid., p. 386.

[6] Opienski, Henryk. Chopin's Letters, tr. Voynich, E.L. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1931), p. 204.

[7] Siepmann, Jeremy. Chopin: The Reluctant Romantic (London: Victor Gollancz, 1995), p. 153.


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