Sonata

“Funeral March”

Chopin wrote three piano sonatas. No.1 in C minor (1827) was written for his teacher Elsner as a compositional problem. Academic and difficult, it holds almost no interest for pianists. Its third movement is an early example of a 5/4 meter.

The Second Sonata is resplendent. Composed in 1838, it is one of the staple items of the pianist’s repertory and contains the world’s most famous Funeral March.

This work expresses a life-and-death struggle. The opening movement begins with a portentous motive, leading directly into a Doppio movimento. The grandeur of the conception leads to a lean and inevitable development section. The second movement, a scherzo, echoes the first movement’s conflagrations. The Marche funebre is placed as the third movement with extraordinary effect; its trio must not be played sweetly. The finale, composed in unison, is a shudder of grief.This sonata was a specialty of Liszt and of Anton Rubinstein; the latter called it “night winds sweeping over church-yard graves.

John Ogdon says, “The finest recording of it is still Rachmaninoff’s magnificent, unforgettable performance.” Alan Walker wrote, “There are fewer great interpretations of this Sonata than there are great pianists.”

  • ARGERICH: DG (CD)
  • GODOWSKY: APR (CD)
  • HOROWITZ: CBS (CD)
  • KAPELL: RCA (CD)
  • KATZ: Pye
  • NOVAES: Vox
  • POGORELICH: DG (CD)
  • RACHMANINOFF: RCA (CD)
  • RUBINSTEIN: RCA (CD)
  • UCHIDA: Philips (CD)

Sonata No.3 in B minor, Op. 58 Not as stark as the Second Sonata, No.3 almost bursts its form in the first movement, so rich are the themes, so vital and ornamental. In this late masterpiece, Chopin is charting new formal and harmonic paths. As in the Second Sonata, he breaks out of the Viennese tradition of sonata form. The recapitulation begins with the second subject, which must be one of the most beautiful melodies ever composed within the confines of sonata form. The second movement is a blithe scherzo in E-flat major, with a chiseled and strange trio. The third movement opens with a funereal introduction leading to one of Chopin’s greatest meditations, music that leaves one spell-bound. The movement is worked out with formal genius and the last page calls for great profundity of feeling. The agitated finale, Presto, ma non tanto, is a volcanic conception, utilizing only two subjects, worked out on a grand scale. It is a triumph of primordial power.

  • ARGERICH: DG (CD)
  • ARTYMIW: Chandos (CD)
  • CHERKASSKY: Nimbus (CD)
  • CLIBURN: RCA (CD)
  • CORTOT: Biddulph (CD)
  • FIRKUSNY: Fone (CD)
  • GRAINGER: Biddulph (CD)
  • HOFMANN (first movement): RCA
  • HUNGERFORD: Vanguard
  • KAPELL: RCA (CD)
  • LIPATTI: Angel (CD)
  • NOVAES: Vox
  • RUBINSTEIN: RCA (CD)
  • WEISSENBERG: EMI (CD)