The Sonata in B-flat minor, Op. 35, was written in 1839 and published the following year. Unusually, Chopin initially approved the Sonata fùnebre title, but later took out the adjective in the 3rd French edition. He described the work in an August 1839 letter to Julian Fontana thus: “Here I am writing a Sonata in B-flat minor, containing the march that you know. There is an allegro, then a Scherzo in E-flat minor, the march and short finale, perhaps 3 of my pages; the left hand in unison with the right, gossiping after the march.” As is apparent from this remark, the Funeral March was composed earlier, probably in 1837, as witnessed by an album leaf containing the first eight bars of the Trio and dated “Paris, 28. September 1837”. This movement was orchestrated by Henri Reber to be played in the Madeleine’s Church in Paris at Chopin’s own funeral in October 1849. The other three movements were concluded in the summer of 1839, in George Sand’s manor house at Nohant, right after their return from Majorca. While quickly gaining popularity, the work was misunderstood by critics from the very beginning. Thus, while Anton Rubinstein called the piece “Death poem”, Robert Schumann was baffled by it, admitting it possessed beauty, but apparently misunderstanding its musical ideas and the structure, since he referred to it as “four of Chopin’s maddest children under the same roof” and to the last movement, devoid of melody and clear key, as “a jeer, but not music”. It has been suggested that this sonata was modelled on Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 26 in A-flat major, also known as the “Funeral march”, which Chopin often played and taught.
Written five years after the Second Sonata and published in 1845, the Sonata in B minor, Op. 58, lies on the other side of the transition period that many see as pivotal in Chopin’s life. This work was completed a few months after the Berceuse, and was written in times of tranquillity and relatively good health. The largest of all of Chopin’s works for piano solo, it represents – together with the Fantasie and the 4th Ballade – the apotheosis of his creativity.
Called “the most beautiful nocturne of all” by A. Hedley, “ravishing” by J. Rink, “messianic” by K. Stromenger and “stunning” by H. Leichentritt, Chopin’s Barcarolle was also greatly admired by artists such as von Bülow and was found by M. Ravel to be “the synthesis of the expressive and sumptuous art of this great Slav”, and to express “languor in excessive joy” by A. Gide. The Barcarolle represents a case in point of Chopin’s ornamental genius. Ravel wrote: “Chopin was not content merely to revolutionize piano technique. His figurations are inspired. Through his brilliant passages one perceives profound, enchanting harmonies. Always there is the hidden meaning which is translated into poetry of intense despair.”
Chopin may have begun his work on the Barcarolle because he suddenly found himself with time on his hands, an idea of a trip to Italy in the autumn of 1845 having been cancelled due to the opposition of George Sand’s son, Maurice. The work carried over into the next year, which is when the piece was finalized and published. Originally the typical song of Venetian gondoliers, the barcarolle was often used in the Romantic period due to its exotic ambience and the 6/8 or 12/8 lilting rhythm. J. Chantavoine suggested that Chopin’s Barcarolle may have been a result of George Sand’s stories about Venice. Chopin constructed it formally as one of his nocturnes, in three sections, where the middle one draws particularly on the boat-song 12/8 rhythm and imagery. Harmonically, it is one of his most advanced works and it also explores trills in a way that Beethoven has done in his late sonatas. © 2005 Robert Andres
Recorded at Potton Hall, UK, 17 - 24th June 2004
Produced by Philip Hobbs
Engineered by Julia Thomas
Post Production at Finesplice, UK
Photographs of Artur Pizarro by Sven Arnstein