Chopin's Piano Sonata in B Flat Minor Opus 35 - Late 19th & Early 20th reception



In his book Frederic Francois Chopin, Charles Willeby addresses the issue of "programme" versus "abstract" music as it applies to Chopin's works in general. He regards the third piano sonata as the most interesting of all, and is of the opinion that the finale of opus 35 has "not the remotest connection, thematic or otherwise, with anything in the [rest of the] Sonata."[36] He believed that Chopin was a pure romanticist and that, as a consequence of this, his best music is his "programme" music (i.e., music in which the generally explicit "programme" is an expression of the ideas and feelings within the composer as he wrote). This prompted Willeby to question how anything else could be more antagonistic to the classic form of the sonata. He adds, "...we find him here...continually endeavouring to repress the ideas within him which were clamouring for utterance, as unsuitable to the form in which he was writing... It is sufficiently manifest that Chopin's nature rendered him incapable of the creation of music wholly for its own sake."[37]


Willeby also discusses the concept of "subordination of musical ideas," which warrants attention here. He believed that Chopin expressed his musical thoughts as he wrote, and subordinated them to nothing, unlike composers of "absolute" music (such as the sonata) who allowed the subordination of their harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic senses to the form in which they are writing. Referring to these two situations, Willeby concludes his discussion as follows:


That [a composer] have an imagination is of course as essential in the one case as in the other; but the fact remains that which is art with the one is not so for the other, for it has not the same aims, nor does it rest upon the same foundation. And when we have regard to this, can we wonder at or question the truth of [at all events as regards the Sonatas] Liszt's judgment when he said that they contained "plus de volonté que d'inspiration" [more effort than inspiration]?[38]


It is interesting to note the existence of two completely different opinions with regard to Liszt's remark - Frederick Niecks contra, and Willeby pro, by way of a carefully constructed argument. It would appear that, although he does not offer much


[36] Willeby, Charles. Frederic Francois Chopin (London: Sampson Low & Co., 1892), p. 225.

[37] ibid., pp. 228-229.

[38] ibid., p. 231. All interpolations except the final one are those of the author.



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