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



be published. It was also called the "Funeral March Sonata," a title (unusually) approved by Chopin himself in 1847.[8] The original "Marche funèbre" in B flat minor (1837) was not published until it was incorporated as the slow movement of the complete, four-movement sonata opus 35. It was, however, published separately in various editions following Chopin's death, and performed in an orchestral version at Chopin's funeral.


The other two piano sonatas of Chopin are the opus 4 in C minor and the opus 58 in B minor, which date from 1827 and 1844 respectively. Opus 4 was composed around the middle of a three-year course under Joseph Elsner at the Warsaw Conservatoire. To use the words of Jim Samson, it seems that his student efforts "...indicate all too clearly that in his early years at least this was not the air he breathed most naturally."[9] No reviews nor reports of nineteenth-century performances of this sonata have surfaced; even today the work is played no more than as a historical curiosity, or for the sake of providing a complete edition of Chopin's piano music, as has been done by the pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy in recent years. Opus 58 originated during Chopin's last happy, relatively untroubled summer at Nohant. It presented nothing like Opus 35's march or short finale to arouse the sort of criticism directed at opus 35, although there were some reservations. Ironically, it will become evident that in fact the sonatas opus 35 and opus 58 are remarkably similar in their overall outline.


The second sonata consists of four movements, the first of which is in sonata form in the key of B flat minor, and is marked "Grave-Doppio movimento." This is followed by a "Scherzo" in the key of E flat minor, in the middle of which is embedded a trio in G flat major. The third movement, the original funeral march in B flat minor (1837), is marked "Lento" and consists of two statements of the march between which is a trio in D flat major. The finale is marked "Presto" and is essentially a perpetuum mobile of four groups of quaver triplets per bar, in a kind of compressed sonata form.[10]

According to Anatoly Leiken, the choice of a funeral march as the "centre of gravity" is no accident; Chopin was certainly attracted to this genre.[11] Even though only one


[8] Samson, Jim. The Music of Chopin (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985),p. 129.

[9] ibid., p. 129.

[10] The opinions as to the form of this final movement vary: See Chapter 10 for an analysis.

[11] Leiken, Anatoly. 'The Sonatas,' The Cambridge Companion to Chopin, ed. Samson, J. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p.161.


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