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



sonatas of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven are rarely "predictable", although this may be the case with some of the lesser composers of sonatas in the Classical era.


In a recent work, Jeremy Siepmann makes some interesting comments with reference to the "text-book" sonata-form structures laid down in the codifications by Marx and Czerny. He asserts that few great composers have adhered to "text-book" sonata form, with the result that these structures have usually to be drawn from second-rate works.[81] On the one hand, this is plainly obvious in that the sonatas of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven predate the definition of sonata form; they could therefore not follow rules not yet written. On the other hand, however, Rosen has noted that Marx's codification of sonata form was modelled on Beethoven's middle-period works.[82] One can therefore conclude that some sonatas of the great composers will show a similarity with the textbook definition, while others will not. Siepmann adds that if Chopin had called his B flat Minor sonata "Fantasy, Scherzo, March and Finale" he might "...have saved himself and history a lot of fruitless trouble."[83] There is probably much truth in this.


In another recent publication, Charles Rosen critically examines Schumann's comments and offers some interesting ideas. He questions whether Schumann's undoubted knowledge that the Funeral March had been written two years earlier than the rest of the work affected his judgement of its unity. On opus 35's unity, Rosen argues that "...the unity of tone and of harmonic color that holds Chopin's four movements together is not only impressive, but far surpasses the more arbitrary technique of achieving unity by quoting literally from earlier movements in the later ones, a technique that was popular with many of Chopin's contemporaries including...Schumann himself."[84] This highlights the extreme diversity of opinions on one work - from the early notion that opus 35 lacked structural unity, to recent writings that not only attest to the presence of unifying factors in the work, but also the subtle manner in which they are employed.


[81] Siepmann, Jeremy. Chopin: The Reluctant Romantic (London: Victor Gollanoz, 1995), p.155. Siepmann does not give examples of such second-rate works; Schumann's Sonata opus 11 could be one.

[82] Rosen, Charles. Sonata Forms (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1988), p. 4. Rosen also notes that Marx was an important factor in the creation of the myth of the supremacy of Beethoven, which explains the use of Beethoven's procedures in Marx's codification of sonata form.

[83] Siepmann, Jeremy. Chopin: The Reluctant Romantic (London: Victor Gollanoz, 1995), p.155.

[84] Rosen, Charles. The Romantic Generation (London: Harper Collins, 1995), p.283.


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