Chopin began his work with a classical sonata cycle in 1827, during his studies with J. Eisner. It was his tutor who talked the composer into writing his first Sonata in C minor Op. 4; probably Chopin also felt ambitious to master his composing craft, which was certainly indispensable to create the cycle. The first attempt, challenging classical principal form, does not lack traits that are individual and original in many respects.
Mature composer resumes the experiences from his youth after more than a dozen years. His unconventional stylistics has already been crystallised and synthesised; apart from other significant works, two sonatas have been composed: in B flat minor and in B minor. It is characteristic that being aware of the classical heritage of the genre Chopin does not question, it but he transforms it into the highly individualised compositional form. He refers to Beethoven’s idea of dynamic, extended, spectacular form and, following the great classic, he shifts scherzo into the second place and adagio into the third place; and at the same time he preserves the classical construction of the sonata cycle. Simultaneously, he fills the cycle with the content that is consistent with the canon of romantic thinking and lustrered with a new harmonic sound and effective pianistic technique. Using the means of expression worked out in ballads, scherzos, preludes and nocturnes, he builds a work where each of four parts of the cycle is an act of developing, a coherent and expressive plot. It may be said that Chopin replaces the logic of form with consistent laws of composition dramaturgy.
Piotr Paleczny – photo Cezary Wieroński
Sonata B flat minor Op. 35 is an example of peculiar consistency within these laws. Fascinating composition moves the listener to the bone. However, it was not composed immediately. First, Funeral March was written, and then sonata was built around it. The march serves as the base for the Sonata – being its central point it also serves as its climax. The sonata cycle stands here for the metaphor of fate, in the cyclic dramaturgy the march symbolises inevitable catastrophe which, in turn, paradoxically brings catharsis – ultimate liberation. It is preceded by the first part – full of conflicts and tension, and by scherzo apotheosis of strength and vitality. Then, it is commented by the ambiguous sequence of the short finale. In his letter to J. Fontana, Chopin describes it as a short little finale, where the left band unison with the right hand are chatting after the inarch is ended. This little finale – where the sonorities are characterised by the inexplicable and incomparable expression – is unique in world literature.
Sonata in B minor Op. 58 was composed six years later, in 1844. It differs in character from the previous one and in many respects they stand in contrast. Condensed expression is replaced with philosophical distance and moderation typical of Chopin’s late style; calm narration replaces vehement course of events. Sequences filled with reflection and characteristic meditation prevail over strong accents; they emanate with peculiar beauty on its own. According to J. Iwaszkiewicz, it is in Sonata in B minor that Chopin music reaches its climax; T. A. Zieliński claims that we may call it the most magnificent and deepest work by Chopin, the culminant work of his artistry. In my opinion the above description does not refer solely to Sonata in B minor. Both compositions entered the collection of piano music masterpieces of the 19th century as works of art of the highest value.
Translation: Joanna Janecka