Jon Lee


Chopin Piano Sonata in b minor, op. 58

Program Notes

Chopin completed his third piano sonata in 1844, five years after his second Sonata in B-flat minor, Op. 35, which received mixed reviews. Critics, acknowledging his mastery in “smaller” forms like nocturnes and ballades, questioned his ability to navigate sonata form. Schumann famously remarked that Chopin “gathered up four of his most unruly children, using this title perhaps to smuggle them into places where they could not otherwise have penetrated.”1

During the Romantic era, the sonata genre gained status as “serious” music. A new composer could try to make a name for himself by publishing one, and it was those in Austria and Germany, where the sonata was most heavily developed, who played gatekeepers on whom belonged alongside Beethoven. Many rebuttals to Schumann’s pan have since appeared, but biographer Jim Samson suggests that Chopin may not have intended to play that game. If his second sonata showcased his “miniature” skills within the form, the third might reflect more deliberate engagement with the sonata on its own terms.2

More contrapuntal and leaning toward heftier (maybe more Germanic) textures, the third sonata is Chopin’s largest solo work, and hews closely to the scheme of the second sonata. The first movement’s defiant opening lines yields to a nocturne as its second theme. The recapitulation omits restatement of the first theme entirely, perhaps because the development so thoroughly remarked upon it.3 The second movement is an etude-like scherzo featuring a brooding trio. The third movement, also a nocturne, feels more like a procession, and is an interesting counterpoint to the Marche funèbre of the second sonata. The contrasting middle section poses a persistent three-note question against the backdrop of a water wheel. A driving, heroic rondo concludes the work.


Dinu Lipatti (25:04)

Martha Argerich (26:00)

Other resources

  1. Petty, Wayne C. “Chopin and the Ghost of Beethoven.” 19th-Century Music 22, no. 3 (1999): 285. 

  2. Samson, Jim. The Music of Chopin, 129. Oxford University Press, 1994. 

  3. Gould, Peter. “Concertos and Sonatas.” In The Chopin Companion, ed. Alan Walker, 161. Barrie & Rockliff, 1966. 

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