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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from APR7501
Recording details: September 1928
Columbia Records America, USA
Release date: February 2011
Total duration: 19 minutes 44 seconds

Piano Sonata No 2 in B flat minor, Op 35
composer
third movement originally composed as a separate piece in 1837; completed in Nohant in 1839; published 1840; 'Funeral March' Sonata

Grave – Doppio movimento  [5'34]  recorded 9 September 1928
Scherzo  [5'57]  recorded 9 September 1928
Marche funèbre  [6'27]  recorded 9 September 1928
Presto  [1'46]  recorded 9 September 1928

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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Two years after composing the Op 27 Nocturnes, Chopin wrote a Marche funèbre (1837). It was shortly after his hopes of marriage to Teresa Wodzinska had been dashed, but perhaps we should be cautious about inferring too much from that. At any rate two years later, during the summer of 1839 (the first of the seven highly productive summers he spent at George Sand’s country estate at Nohant in the French provinces), he wrote a further three movements to complete his Piano Sonata No 2 in B flat minor Op 35. The work was published the following year (1840). This time Schumann was not so generous. His reference to the four movements as ‘four unruly children smuggled under this name into a place they could not otherwise have penetrated’ is intriguing. As a criticism it is hardly fair, criticizing Chopin for failing to achieve something that was never really in his sights, but at the same time it does point to what is really singular about this work. Of course it is possible to relate it to the historical archetype of the Austro-German sonata (the overall shape, with the funeral march following rather than preceding the scherzo, is close to Beethoven’s Op 26, a sonata that Chopin taught and played), but really Chopin was trying to create something quite different: a new kind of sonata, albeit based on the old kind. Essentially he used the sonata genre as a framework within which the achievements of his earlier music—the figurative patterns of the Études and Preludes, the cantilenas of the Nocturnes, and even the periodicity of the dance pieces—might be drawn together in a kind of synthesis.

It is possible, for example, to analyse the first movement as a sonata form with the inverted reprise that is so characteristic of Chopin (compare the Ballades). But equally it is possible to hear it as a double cycle where figurative patterns are followed by cantilenas. Moreover, just as Nocturnes are embedded in the first movement in this way, so another Nocturne is trapped within the Scherzo and yet another haunts the middle section of the funeral march. In neither of these inner movements does the central song feel like a natural outgrowth of the flanking sections. It remains remote from them, strengthening our impression of a series of contrasted, relatively self-contained musical worlds juxtaposed rather than smoothly joined. And in this reading the notorious finale assumes the character of a baroque-like Étude or Prelude (compare Nos 14 and 19 from the Op 28 Preludes). This in no way diminishes the powerful affective quality of the sequence, where the funeral march yields first to the detached, otherworldly song of its ‘trio’, and then to the disintegrative, harmonically elusive, and purposefully insubstantial finale. But it does reinforce (in a positive way) the gist of Schumann’s observation. The components of this work are formally separated, albeit thematically linked.

from notes by Jim Samson © 2009


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