Chopin's Piano Sonata in B Flat Minor Opus 35 - Initial Reception



Chopin's works during his time seldom mentioned his technical achievements; if included, they were discussed only in broad terms.[27]


Of the various sources consulted, it is evident that the majority of critics disagree with Schumann's comments. Those who do agree constitute a group originating mainly from the mid- to late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Prior to the 1940s, most writings concerning Chopin's opus 35 were decidedly negative, although some critics questioned Schumann's reasoning for his reservations about the work. One such writer was Henry T. Finck, who, in his 1889 work Chopin and Other Musical Essays, daringly proclaims:


I do not know whether he was a German or a French critic who first wrote that Chopin, although great in short pieces, was not great enough to master the sonata form. Once in print, this silly opinion was repeated parrot-like by scores of other critics. How silly it is may be inferred from the fact that such third-rate composerlings as Herz and Hummel were able to write sonatas of the most approved pattern - and that, in fact, any person with the least musical talent can learn in a few years to write sonatas that are absolutely correct as regards form. And yet we are asked to believe that Chopin, one of the most profound and original musical thinkers the world has ever seen, could not write a correct sonata! ...Chopin not able to master the sonata form? The fact is, sonata form could not master him. [28]


Finck may have a valid point in believing that many critics blindly agreed with each other (and therefore with Schumann) without looking at the work objectively and drawing their own conclusions. He adds that Chopin was not the first who tried to get away from the sonata, citing the numerous poetic licences evident in Beethoven's sonatas as an example. This negative attitude, however, changed drastically in the twentieth century. Since the mid-1940's, the vast majority of writings on the subject of opus 35 are positive and oppose many aspects of Schumann's critique. Evidence of this is found in several analyses undertaken, the most important of which will be


[27] Chechlinska, Zofia. 'Chopin Reception in Nineteenth-Century Poland,' The Cambridge Companion to Chopin, ed. Samson, J. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 216.

[28] Finck, Henry T. Chopin and Other Musical Essays (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1889), pp. 40-41.


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