Chopin's Piano Sonata in B Flat Minor Opus 35 - Late reception 1940-1996



It was in 1837, however, that Carl Czerny who, in the preface to his opus 600 (a work devoted to the explanation of compositional techniques), implied that he was the first to describe the sonata in any detail. It was only in 1848, however, that this three-volume treatise on composition appeared in print. Newman provides a brief summary of Czerny's description of the first movement of the sonata, which will be discussed here.


Czerny described in detail, in the forty-nine pages of his sixth chapter, what "must" go into each of the four movements (allegro, adagio or andante, scherzo or minuet, and finale or rondo). He cautioned that in connection with the first movement, "we must always proceed in a settled form. For, if this order were evaded or arbitrarily changed, the composition would no longer be a regular Sonata."[92] He still viewed the first movement as being in two parts. Its first part consists of the "principal subject," its extension and a modulation to "the nearest related key," a "middle subject" and its extension in the related key, and a "final melody" that closes in that key at the repeat sign. Its second part divides into two sections, a modulatory "development" of any of those ideas or a new one, ending back in the original key; and a recapitulation that restates the first part except for abridgements and adjustments needed to remain in the original key. Czerny also discussed the other three movements of the sonata and quoted examples from piano sonatas regarded by him as successful, including those by Haydn, Clementi, Mozart, Beethoven, and Dussek.[93]


The most striking feature of this discussion of the codification of the term "sonata" is that Chopin's second piano sonata was composed before the concepts "sonata" and "sonata form" (in their modern sense) had been fully recognised as specific terms in textbooks on music theory. As Newman puts it, Czerny's work provides "an astonishing illustration of the degree to which theory can trail practice. Not until as much as sixty years after some of the masterworks of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Clementi had appeared...did anyone write an explicit description of what happens in a


[92] ibid., p. 30. The important points from Czerny's opus 600 have been taken from an English translation of the original German which appear in Newman's work (translator not named). It is important to note, however, that the terms "exposition" and "recapitulation" as used in this paragraph are not those of the translator.

[93] ibid., p. 30.



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