Dr. Joshua Drake
Civilization: The Arts
March 25, 2014
Hoping Against Hope: An Analysis of Chopin’s Opus 69 No. 1
With exquisite mingling in sound of quiet and agitation, fluidity and interruption, with a gorgeous melody of cautious, tightly contracting circles and sudden leaps into space, Chopin, the subtle-souled psychologist, opens his waltz. How does Chopin speak through his waltz? How does the music play the listener? Minds think through forms. Form follows content. Music’s structure matters. In Chopin’s Opus 69 No.1, the AA’BA’BA’CCDCDA’ structure of reoccurring themes uncomfortably prolongs the inevitable return of the tragic first theme which the audience does not want to hear but expects to hear anyway.
Chopin opens his Waltz on a troubled, searching theme. Full of hesitancies, sudden rushes, and wavering chromaticism, the pensive tune features rhythmic and melodic fragility. With regards to rhythm, unpredictable phrasing creates rhythmic dissonance with the steady left hand waltz pattern and forces the dancers into a posture of searching in order to stay in step with the meter. With regards to melody, the introspective tune centers around a restless cycle of stressed and unstressed pairs of measures, similar to a poem in iambic octameter. During the first and more stressed measure in each pair, the melody scrambles impulsively through several chromatic notes in search of a note on which to land, almost like a game of musical chairs. Then, during the second and less stressed measure in each pair, the melody stretches out onto one or two sustained notes, almost like a sigh. As the sixteen measure melody progresses, the stressed measures become increasingly more desperate and fling the melody further and harder until finally in a climax the melody jumps 17 half steps only to immediately collapse under itself and land on a note even lower than its starting point. The A section repeats with a few extra ornamentations and reaches a climax when in a characteristically Chopin 14-note trill, the melody climbs all the way up the scale only to collapse again into a searching gesture. All throughout, Chopin’s faultless lyricism offers catharsis in the way the tune earnestly ponders, probes, and sketches with soul-piercing accuracy. Nonetheless, the rhythmic and melodic fragility only ever resolve in an inauthentic cadence and the restless first theme leaves the listener hoping for relief.
The brooding AA’ section soon gives way to a pleasing B section interlude. Marked con anima, the animated alternate theme lilts through a charming whirling motif in an outspokenly major tone - a clear contrast to the chromatic subtlety of what came before. But no matter how appealing the B section may seem, it functions as a circular daydream. After the twirling motif has repeated no less than 6 times, the musical equivalent of doodling, the left hand accompaniment has gotten increasingly annoying with its back and forth between no more than two...