MUS 404: Keyboard Literature
June 22, 2010
Piano Sonata No. 3 in b minor, Op. 58 by Frédéric Chopin
Chopin’s third sonata is a masterwork filled with pianistic elements, daring harmonies, experimental form, and a wealth of expressivity. In this four-movement work, references to other Chopin compositions and influences from fellow composers are found. At the same time, there is a progressive element; it looks forward to the heights which would be achieved by Chopin and later composers.
Chopin wrote the Sonata, Op. 58 in 1844, several months after the Berceuse, Op. 57. The Berceuse provides inspiration for the slow movement (Samson, Chopin 23). These works were written at a time when Chopin’s relationship with George Sand was coming to an end. These personal troubles, however, did not hamper his musical genius (Lederer 69). However, perhaps this turmoil is reflected in the ungraspable opening sections of the first movement and the tumultuousness of the final movement.
The sonata-allegro from was fathered by Haydn, mastered by Mozart, and experimented with by Beethoven. By the Romantic period, the sonata form was quite loose (Lederer 65 – 66). Chopin did not wish to be hampered by conventions; instead, he desired freedom in form. One of Chopin’s favorite of Beethoven sonatas is the Op. 26 in A-flat Major. He taught and played it quite often (Lederer 66). This sonata is highly unconventional. It begins with a set of theme and variations; not one of the movements is written a sonata-allegro form. It interchanges the middle movements; a scherzo precedes the slow movement, which happens to be a funeral march. Chopin’s two great sonatas (No. 2 in b-flat minor and No. 3 in b minor) are quite experimental with the sonata-allegro form. It is their unconventionality which makes them such masterful works. Chopin’s first sonata was an attempt to abide by the Classical rules of sonata compositions. It was an uninspired composition, a failure, and largely forgotten (Huneker 166).
Movement 1: Allegro maestoso
The first movement of the third sonata is the most experimental, the one which deviates most from Classical form and harmonies. The exposition, in particular, is more like a fantasy than a sonata. The sonata opens quite promisingly. A descending broken chord followed by ascending march-like chords creates the primary theme (mm. 1 – 4).
As soon as this theme is established, it is lost by a transition. The transition (mm. 12 – 16) is derived from the opening theme.
Traditionally, the transition should segue way into the second theme. However, this transition leads to another idea, which is characterized by majestic chords (mm. 17 – 18).
This melodic idea is equally promising; it has the potential to serve as the primary theme which had been cut short. Unfortunately, it only holds for two measures before it is swept away by a descending chromatic scale in sixths.
The listener would perceive the slow-moving idea (mm. 23 – 29)...