Sonata # 1, opus 4 in c-minor – Sonata # 3, op.58 in b-minor
María de los Ángeles Iglesias, piano.
Without a doubt, Frederic Chopin is the poet of the piano. With Beethoven, the piano already held a dominant position among musical instruments, but with Chopin it achieved poetic status. Chopin was born in Poland in 1810, 17 years prior to Beethoven’s death, and so the parameters of Musical Form were already firmly established at that time in history, and from his childhood he took piano lessons in which he was taught classical structures that can be found in all of his works, even in the most innovative ones such as the Ballades.
Chopin explored every possible genre for the piano. His work-list includes a wide range of compositions (preludes, waltzes, mazurkas, polonaises, impromptus, nocturnes, etudes, etc.), as well as large-scale pieces like his two concertos for piano and orchestra, or complex and highly original pie- ces such as his four scherzos and his four ballades; we should also mention his three sonatas for piano solo as well as his one sonata for cello and piano.
A great deal has already been written about this unique ro- mantic composer: among others, the references Franz Liszt made, or those of the distinguished Spanish musicologist, critic and composer Jesús Bal y Gay as well as modern day Polish musicologists, all of whom provide us with ample material to judge the genius and the importance of Frederic Chopin and his music on his contemporaries and on future generations.
There are three important aspects we should bear in mind when we analyze or judge Chopin’s music: First, the great piano virtuoso he was, secondly his in-depth knowledge of classical form, and third, Chopin the innovator. These three aspects are always present together in his works.
The first sonata, op. 4, written en 1828 was published in 1851 after Chopin’s death; it is the least performed sonata despite its great pianistic values and creative compositional interest. The second sonata, op. 35, in b-flat minor, on the other hand, is perhaps the most often played and is considered to be a revolutionary work in every aspect. The third sonata is superbly structured, a compositional monument. In this edition, we are going to hear the first and the third sonatas. So, now, let’s talk about these two sonatas in a little more depth.
The Sonata # 1, opus 4 in c-minor is in four movements.
The first movement, Allegro Maestoso, is in sonata form, but rather than following the usual classical procedure of presenting a main theme and then a contrasting secondary theme, he develops only one main theme throughout. A short Introduction leads into the exposition of the single thematic idea from which he develops all the other phrases and motifs. The development uses sequences based on the main theme, playing with harmonic changes and employing well-constructed polyphony which, in turn, stimulates a high degree of virtuosic passagework, especially the use of double notes. Before the bridge passage leading into the recapitulation, Chopin introduces a quieter and very enjoyable theme, as a momentary relief from the resounding avalanche of octaves; while this is, indeed, of secondary importance thematically, it becomes increasingly important because of its expressive quality. The movement comes to end with a clearly structured recapitulation in the tonic key.
The second movement is a Menuetto in the classical style, however, the piano’s role is expanded and more prominent. The middle section, the Trio, is treated like a small mazurka, evoking Polish folksongs.
The third movement, Larghetto, employs a completely novel approach. First of all, Chopin uses the unusual time signature of 5/4 for a beautiful cantabile melody.With an extraordinarily poetic beauty, the composer breaks all the rules of meter and only the melody, in perfect conjunction with the rhythm, displays inexhaustible musical invention filled with that total freedom we associate with Chopin’s use of rubato.
The fourth movement, Finale-Presto, is the most complex of all. Here is a sonata rondo following a Beethoven-like formula ABACABA. The middle episode C is the longest and most developed. A beautifully composed chorale in g-minor in which the composer tells the performer to play “passionately”. Its brief excursion into D-major is nothing but a playful deception somewhat reminiscent of what J.S. Bach might have done, a composer, by the way, whom the young Chopin admired a lot. The polyphonic motion in the left hand takes us back to the opening presto and, from here, Chopin elaborately works out the new idea in conjunction with the first and second themes we heard at the beginning. Theme A in c-minor is clearly heard as the recapitulation starts, but with slight rhythmic variants; theme B follows it just as in the exposition. The harmonic movement leads to section C, this time in d-minor (the dominant of g-mi- nor), but still has that Finale-like character. The movement ends resoundingly with a sensational and brilliant coda in the sonata’s tonic key. Although Chopin was young when he wrote this piece, it has tremendous expressive power and a striking structural balance; this innovative work deserves a prominent place in the romantic repertory of any pianist, right next to op.35 and op.58.