AN 2 9127 Chopin Sonate 3 Polonaise-Fantaisie Nocturnes

Chopin: Sonate No. 3, Polonaise-Fantaisie, Nocturnes

Release date September 25, 2015
Album code AN 2 9127
Periods Romantic
Genres Piano

They spoke about it

Album information


The works of Chopin on this recording were composed between 1843 and 1846, a period that saw declining health, the death of his father, and the slow deterioration of his relationship with the writer George Sand. It was also a time in which Chopin’s final compositional style – arising out of a period of aesthetic reflection several years earlier – came to the forefront. He emerged from this period even more of a perfectionist than before. “Three lines out of four scratched out, this is the real, pure Chip-Chip!” wrote George Sand in the margins of a letter from April 1844. This meticulousness is unsurprising, given the increasing complexity and refinement of his writing, with its heightened attention to formal organization and counterpoint. This new style tended to place emotional expression on an almost philosophical level, with spontaneity and the passionate impulses of youth giving way to a more pensive, meditative mood that in turn could express a much wider palette of emotions.

Chopin made several sketches for the Sonata in B Minor in the summer of 1843, spent with Sand in Nohant. These were to be among the last moments of happiness for the couple, and by early fall, they were clearly at odds, with Chopin returning alone to Paris on October 28. Sand only joined him a month later, making it their longest separation since the start of their relationship. Chopin did not take up the sonata again until the next summer, again spent at Nohant, after a spring marred by the death of his father. Published in 1846, the work is often considered Chopin’s finest work. A great care for consistency unites the four movements into a single statement, as if Chopin were trying to answer the critiques levelled at his Op. 35 Sonata – among them Robert Schumann, who reproached it for having too much disparity between the movements. The first theme and the development of the first movement have an undeniable Germanic influence. The ingenuity of the counterpoint, which occasionally overshadows the pursuit of melodic beauty, confers an austerity in some places that is rather unusual for Chopin. This gravity only serves to emphasize the inspired lyricism of the second theme. The “Scherzo”, whose light, humorous outer sections serve as parentheses in the sonata’s narrative framework, stands in stark contrast to the overall serious character of the work. The “Largo” introduces a long melody with a typical Chopin accompaniment, worthy of his loveliest nocturnes. The central section gives rise to a strikingly poetic moment: the hypnotic eighth-note accompaniment seems to suspend time and immerse the listener into a state of deep contemplation. The initial theme then returns like a faded, distant memory. The virtuosic, frenetic “Finale” builds in intensity until the ecstatic coda, releasing all of the work’s accumulated tension in a dazzling flurry.

On December 12, 1845, Chopin wrote, “Now, I want to finish my Cello Sonata and the Barcarolle, but also something for which I have not yet found a title…” This as yet unnamed piece would become the Polonaise-Fantaisie, on which he worked diligently through the spring of 1846. It is perhaps one of his most complex works, due especially to its rich counterpoint and daring harmonic structure. The union of “polonaise” and “fantaisie” is clear from the outset, with several series of authoritative chords typical of a polonaise, each succeeded by delicate arpeggiated ornaments with an improvised, fantaisie-like character. The central piu lento section introduces two new themes, the first, nostalgic and resigned, the second, imploring and plaintive. The piece ends with a triumphant coda that reunites the initial theme with the nostalgic melody of the middle section in the bright key of A-flat major. Despite this dazzling finale, Franz Liszt describes the overall character of the Polonaise-Fantaisie thus: “A deep melancholy–ever broken by startled movements, by sudden alarms, by disturbed rest, by stifled sighs–reigns throughout. We are surrounded by such scenes and feelings as might arise among those who had been surprised and encompassed on all sides by an ambuscade, the vast sweep of whose horizon reveals not a single ground for hope…”

The year 1846 marked a serious deterioration in the relationship between Chopin and Sand, due primarily to conflicts surrounding Sand’s children; it also marked the completion of the Polonaise-Fantaisie and the Barcarolle. In addition, Chopin found the time and energy to compose two smaller works: the four Mazurkas, Op. 63 and the two Nocturnes, Op. 62.

The bitter-sweet, sotto-voce theme of the first of these two nocturnes, in B major, is embellished with several countermelodies, giving it a somewhat polyphonic texture. After a middle section whose initially peaceful melody becomes tormented and anxious as it goes through several unprepared modulations, the work returns to the opening theme, though presented very differently, with all the melodic notes replaced by trills. This technique has the remarkable effect of making the melody even softer and more plaintive, both resigned and despairing.

While the first nocturne, with its complex and daring harmony, looks toward the future, the second is much more like Chopin’s early nocturnes. Starting in a more traditional and extroverted fashion than the first, it increases considerably in complexity during the lively middle section, the counterpoint reaching a refinement rarely equalled in Chopin’s oeuvre. Unlike the Op. 58 Sonata and the Polonaise-Fantaisie, which end with brilliant codas, these nocturnes finish quietly, with a nostalgic, resigned sweetness.

© Florence Brassard
Translated by Peter Christensen

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Charles Richard-Hamelin
AN 2 9127 Chopin Sonate 3 Polonaise-Fantaisie Nocturnes

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