SOUTHERN VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY

FREDERIC CHOPIN’S CLIMACTIC USE OF SONATA ALLEGRO FORM

MUSIC HISTORY 335 TERM PAPER
PROF. LAUNA WHITEHEAD

DEPARTMENT OF MUSIC

J. DAVID TAYLOR

BUENA VISTA, VIRGINIA

11 APRIL 2011

Copyright © 2011 by J. David Taylor All rights reserved .

Nineteenth-Century Piano Music: Essays in Performance and Analysis (New York. As a romantic period composer. nothing is more attractive in the repertory than the bravura endings of Chopin’s larger works. Chopin tends to alter classical forms in order to place dramatic emphasis at the end of the piece. 1997). . At the same time. using the V as a key area or sustaining a harmony on the V) 2 until the final section of the piece preceding the coda. Chopin used form and harmony in new ways that challenged common practice in that era. 117. Garland Publishing. 2 Ibid. 119. modulating to the upper or lower neighbor key. this usually appears in the form of a fortissimo display of bravura. it is very easy to overlook what makes Chopin’s endings so stunning. Analysis clearly reveals Chopin’s formal and harmonic techniques that make an otherwise normal ending into a climactic Chopin ending. or modulating to the upper or lower neighbor to 1 David Witten. modulating by fifth. Chopin uses many compositional techniques that tend to surprise the listener. modern theorists have criticized Chopin for his “weakness of form”1. however. Chopin achieves this effect by obscuring the function of important harmonies. For the aspiring virtuoso playing Chopin.I A Broad Overview of Chopin’s Climactic Formal Alterations Throughout his entire oeuvre. such as the final tonic key area and delaying the appearance of the structural V (ie. In his larger works. As a listener. but these deviations from ordinary formal practice are an essential element of Chopin’s originality and expression. Chopin’s genius lies in departing just far enough away from the destined harmonies that he can hint at them (by common tones and fifth relationships) without abandoning them entirely—that is.

In this essay. For the purpose of clarity. Chopin’s larger works are analyzed in comparison to the sonata allegro form. Chopin occasionally constructs his endings including a 3rd theme presented earlier in the piece (after the exposition and before the recapitulation). and third Ballades. 75. 119.The Four Ballades (New York. Departing even further from the classical recapitulation. Chopin . the mirror reprise uses the 1st theme as the vehicle to reveal the structural V just before the coda. the author thinks it helpful to clarify the usage of formal terminology that Chopin’s theoretical critics cannot seem to agree on. Chopin reveals both of the expository themes in apotheosis (a mixture of bravura with tonal glorification) rather than a literal and monotonal synthesis3. Cambridge University Press. In these compositions. That is not to say that they conform 3 4 Jim Samson. Moreover. with an exposition. These are the specific techniques that make a Chopin ending. Rather than presenting the V in the expositional transition. Witten. the 3rd theme serves as a means of tonal synthesis. The mirror reprise (or recapitulation) presents the two expository themes in reverse order: 2nd theme first. 1992). “[Chopin] carries the principle of statement-intensification-reconciliation to new heights not forseen in the works of his predecessors”4. followed by the 1st theme. In this case. second. removing any doubt of the true tonality by reaffirming it with a theme written for that purpose alone. re-transition or reprisal transition. In short. Chopin saves the best for last and dramatizes the final appearance of the 1st theme and the ending that follows. the author maintains that Chopin’s formal alterations are an essential element of his genius as a composer.the fifth. . Chopin strengthens these harmonic techniques with formal alterations such as the mirror reprise of the first. Even if the critics do not all agree. recapitulation and coda. development.

45. In this way. Op. 23 in G Minor. and 3rd theme ending for tonal synthesis). Routledge and Kegan Paul plc. 119. Each composition varies in formal design but uses two or more of the before mentioned formal techniques (mirror reprise. The analysis also includes the Fantaisie F Minor. mirror reprise and delayed structural V) except for the 3rd theme tonal synthesis. Chopin’s Op. obscured tonic. and Jonathan Bellman7. 47 in A-flat Major. but that the author believes sonata form to be the best way to describe their form.The Four Ballades. 52 in F Minor. 1985). 5 Samson. the beginning of the exposition. 175. 23 employs all of his large-scale formal techniques (tonal ambiguity. 7 Jonathan Bellman. Op. measures 1-3) resembles A-flat major more than G Minor. Chopin's Polish ballade: Op. 38 in F Major.1. Op. Chopin . The Music of Chopin (London. delayed structural V. II Chopin’s Formal Alterations in the Ballades and the F Minor Fantaisie Chopin’s most climactic writing appears in his four Ballades. 6 . 8 Samson. 91. The opening statement (Ex. The harmony at measure 7 forms a secondary Neapolitan 6th chord8 (in relation to D. Op. Chopin begins the piece with harmonic ambiguity at measure 1. 38 as narrative of national martyrdom (New York. Oxford University Press. Witten. concurring with Chopin scholars such as Jim Samson5. Op. 2010). David Witten6. 49. the G Minor Ballade can be viewed as a prototype for the other three Ballades. This analysis begins with the first Ballade in G Minor. the V of G Minor) that finally yields to G Minor at measure 8.exactly to the classical idea of the form or that it is the only way to analyze Chopin’s larger works.

47. Op. a glorious A Major bravura treatment of the 2nd theme. termed by some Chopin scholars as the 3rd theme10. based on the 1st theme of the exposition. At 167. rising to the upper neighbor of the previous E-flat section. starting with theme 2. 23: introductory bars Ex. G.1: A-flat Major writing in the opening bars of the G Minor Ballade9 Chopin reveals the new key at measure 107 in the first apotheosis of the piece. Samson. however. 5 (New York. leading into what can be interpreted as the start of the “development” section of the piece. Complete Works for Piano. Schirmer. this theme transitions back to E-flat major with a playful waltz section. For formal purposes. which mirror reprises the themes of the exposition. 9 Frèderic Chopin.The G Minor harmony holds until the second theme. although Chopin obscures it with sequential harmony between E-flat Major and B-flat Major for 15 measures before a strong cadence with E-flat functioning as the clear tonic at measure 83. This apotheosis is eclipsed only by the absence of the first theme in the recapitulation. Vol. where an E-flat Major harmony emerges. Chopin .The Four Ballades. 10 . which finally comes after a harmonic transition back to a G Minor re-statement of the 1st theme over a D pedal at measure 195. 7. this section functions as part of the development. 1894). Upon closing. The 2nd theme appears in the same key as before. but in glorified form. The second theme closes by transitioning into a new harmony over a pedal on E-natural. the development re-transitions into the functional recapitulation.

At the same time Chopin quotes the opening bars of the piece in the coda.2). A Major E-flat Major G Minor G Minor Figure 1 At this point Chopin has indicated that the structural V is very close. it relies more on tonal ambiguity (Figure 1. Chopin does not use the 1st theme as the primary melodic or motivic basis for the coda. The result is a glorious climax that sets a standard for the other Ballades. 11 12 Chopin. Samson.The Four Ballades. Chopin . . adapted from Samson12) and the delayed structural V and a virtuosic coda to dramatize the ending rather than a final apotheosis of the 1st theme. which yields to the coda Presto con fuoco still in G Minor. from which Chopin derives his 1st theme (Ex. 23: measures 251 and 258 Ex. but he delays it until the last moment at measure 207. the tonal finish of the piece. Although the G Minor Ballade culminates in apotheosis. Although this Ballade uses the mirror reprise. 46-47.2: Chopin’s reference to the 1st theme in the coda11 Theme I Theme II Development Theme II` Theme I` Coda Bars 8-44 67-93 94-105 167-189 191-208 209-265 Tonality G Minor E-flat Major A Minor.Op. 22.

38 is tonal ambiguity. Nearly all publications and recordings of the Ballade refer to it as the F Major Ballade. portraying A Minor as a contrasting. where the re-statement of the 2nd theme appears to have changed to D Minor. but ends in A Minor. Chopin relies on overall tonal ambiguity to intensify the effect when the structural V arrives at measure 157. not primary key area. Johannes Brahms courageously defended its true tonality13 of A Minor. in its destined key of A Minor. The first and greatest problem for analysis in the A Minor Ballade Op. But at measure 47. He intensifies this effect is by the false harmony established at measure 141. Chopin then promptly returns to F Major as if to say that the A Minor tonality was just a mistake. but Chopin reveals his true intentions at measure 149 where the 2nd theme appears in A Minor. In this Ballade. Chopin exploits the major third between the two keys going back and forth between them until the end of the piece. For this reason the author defers to the wisdom of Brahms to establish a tonal basis for analysis. 38 relies heavily on tonal ambiguity and the delayed structural V in order to emphasize the ending where the true tonality finally becomes clear. where the 1st theme returns at the end of the piece. The true tonality of the piece is only really clear at measure 199. Chopin does not conclusively establish A Minor as the real tonality until the end of the piece. Chopin introduces the first sustained A Minor section in the piece. Chopin achieves similar climactic results but with a slightly different approach. In this Ballade. the destined tonality is obscured for only 46 measures.3(i) and (ii)). although Chopin hints at it in measure 33 by introducing a iii6 harmony that cadences in A Minor at measure 38. which does begins in F major. In the A Minor Ballade.In the second Ballade in A Minor. 140. Chopin 13 Witten. . The 141 Presto con fuoco begins with the same notes as the A Minor figuration at measure 47 (Ex. Chopin’s Op. as before (like measures 47-49).

employing a sort of tonal rondo. 62. Op. 16 Samson.spreads his bravura moments of the same themes throughout the piece. Ibid. 47 in A-flat major. 15 . Chopin .The Four Ballades. but the delayed structural V and harmonic ambiguity tie them together. but is less tonally ambiguous than the other Ballades.i14 Op. tonal ambiguity makes those themes all the more poignant when they appear after discovering that F Major was just a diversion. 28. with the following formal schemata16 (Figure 2): 14 Chopin. 38: measures 47-49 Ex. 38: measures 141-143 Ex. 24. 38 contrasts the G Minor Ballade in terms of form. Chopin’s Op. uses the mirror reprise and delayed structural V.ii15 Using slightly different methods.3.3. Chopin’s A Minor Ballade Op.

Theme I Theme II Theme III Theme II` Theme I` Bars 1-52 53-115 116-144 144-183 213-230 Tonality A-flat major F minor A-flat major C-sharp minor A-flat major Figure 2 Although there is no question about the true tonality of the third Ballade. Più mosso introduces the 3rd theme as the thematic closing of the piece. Chopin creates his climactic ending by synthesizing the 1st and 3rd themes in A-flat Major at the end. E-flat. Here. but Chopin in nowise falls short of the climactic precedent established by his first two Ballades. Chopin creates his most complex treatment of form in the Ballades. Chopin creates a final tonal and thematic synthesis by finishing the piece with the 3rd theme. Chopin turns A-flat into G-sharp. 67. In this Ballade. . The F Minor Ballade is the only of the four that does not employ the mirror reprise (Figure 3. 17 Ibid. the third is formally simpler than the first two. and preceding the bravura ending with intense chromaticism. introduced at measure 116. Measure 230. 52. The pedal point arrives at the structural V in measure 204 and takes 8 measures to chromatically prepare the final apotheosis of the 1st theme at measure 212. In the fourth Ballade. the V of C-sharp Minor. Before concluding the piece. adapted from Samson17). As the only Chopin Ballade in a major key. This begins after he presents the 3rd theme in A-flat Major. Chopin modulates back to A-flat major by developing the 1st theme over a pedal point that starts on B-natural in measure 182 and climbs the chromatic scale all the way back to the structural V. spanning many key areas with a new variation on his delayed structural V. Op.

This development transitions into a recapitulation of the 2nd theme at measure 169 in D18 19 Ibid. Chopin reveals the real harmonic basis for the piece.Introduction Theme I (and variations) Theme II Episode based on Theme I Introduction Theme I (and variations) Theme II Coda Bars 1-7 7-71 80-99 99-128 129-34 135-168 169-210 211-239 Tonality C Major F Minor B-flat Major A-flat Major A Major F Minor D-flat Major F Minor Figure 3 The F Minor Ballade begins with an introductory theme (which will appear again later in the piece). in the key of the structural V. Chopin transitions to the 2nd theme in B-flat Major at measure 80. F Minor. At the conclusion of the 2nd theme. 67. Ibid. . Chopin re-transitions to a fairly literal but truncated recapitulation of the 1st theme in F Minor at measure 145. Following the final literal statement of the 1st theme (and abandoning the mirror reprise). he has not even harmonically identified the tonic yet. The introduction is stated. After a series of variations on the 1st theme culminating in its own apotheosis. Chopin begins to develop the 1st theme19. 49. The harmony begins in G-minor at measure 100. Like in the G Minor Ballade. but developmentally shifts around until arriving at a clear A-flat Major at measure 120. Measure 134 concludes the development and at measure 135. After concluding his development of the 1st theme. Chopin begins an embellished nocturnal development of the 1st theme at measure 152. Chopin employs an ambiguous tonal anacrusis18. At the conclusion of the introductory theme. Aflat major unfolds into a lyrical A Major restatement of the introduction at measure 129. oddly enough. Far from revealing the structural V too soon. Cmajor.

While this piece sets aside the mirror reprise native to the Ballades.flat Major. Again. the theme modulates to A-flat Major. 49. At measure 93. Op. where it stays until measure 85 where the transition to the 2nd theme occurs. the author will refer to the piece in terms of F Minor. 1999). But the author and other analysts agree that the Fantaisie employs a two-key scheme20. For the purpose of analysis. the introduction unfolds into a 23 measure transition to the exposition. This introduction. The 1st theme appears at measure 68. The final example of Chopin’s climactic deviations from the sonata allegro form is his Fantaisie in F Minor. A-flat Major. it employs techniques already demonstrated in the 4 Ballades such as obscuring the real (and final) tonality. Unfoldings: essays in Schenkerian theory and analysis (New York. At measure 43. The F Minor Fantaisie explores several distant key areas and has a harmonic problem similar to the A Minor Ballade. the 2nd theme is introduced in C Minor. lasts 42 measures. Chopin concludes with an extremely difficult coda in F Minor that serves to affirm the Ballade’s real tonal destination. but Chopin contradicts this designation by ending the piece in a related key. in an undisputable F Minor. Oxford University Press. still in F Minor. This time the 2nd theme is stated in apotheosis at measure 195. but in relation to the now obvious F Minor tonality of the piece. The Fantaisie begins with an introductory section labeled “Marcia” (or March) outside of the sonata allegro form. . 20 Carl Schachter and Joseph Nathan Straus. At this point Chopin makes no effort to avoid the structural V of F Minor. 261. the composer has clearly stated his designated tonality for the piece in the title. and the use of a 3rd theme to confirm the terminal key area as such. not as an ambiguous tonal anacrusis like the introduction. At measure 77. thus concluding Chopin’s cycle of Ballades for solo piano. lasting 7 measures. where Chopin reveals the structural V.

measures 144-145). Four measures later. Chopin re-states the 1st theme developmentally—not in recapitulation.4. Chopin has no fear of the structural V to F Minor. the 1st theme transitions to G-flat Major.although the final tonality of the piece is still a mystery to the listener.ii22 At measure 164. where Chopin introduces the closing theme.i. At measure 155. 82. Op. this time in E-flat Major.4. Ibid.i21 Op. measure 109 reveals E-flat Major as the current and outstanding harmony. which borrows material from the transition between the introduction and the start of the exposition (Ex. Measure 144 marks the beginning of the development. . which continues until measure 127.4. Even after significant chromatic activity. This time the theme appears in C Minor. 77. Again.4. still in E-flat Major. 49: measures 144-145 Ex. where it stays for 7 measures before a new statement of the transition that appears between the introduction and the 21 22 Chopin. 49: measures 44-47 Ex. measures 44-47 and Ex.ii. Chopin states the 2nd theme again.

Using the previously established G-flat Major and turning it into F-sharp. Chopin literally restates the 1st theme and transition before arriving at the 2nd theme at measure 259 in F Minor.exposition. as in the 3rd Ballade. where the tonality stays for the remainder of the piece. the 3rd theme concludes and Chopin re-transitions for 12 measures before beginning the functional recapitulation with the 1st theme in B-flat Minor. Measure 319 marks the return of the 3rd theme. by synthesis.23 Introduction Transition Theme 1 23 Schachter. now in A-flat Major. where the development concludes. which. This new recapitulatory harmony lasts for 4 measures before yielding to A-flat Major. A-flat Major . affirms the end of the piece and its true tonality. The closing theme appears for the last time at measure 293. of all the processes whose lack of resolution has kept the Fantasy in a constant state of flux almost without parallel in the literature. in B Major. Chopin uses this material until measure 197. or any of the other deceptive cadences in the Fantasy. therefore is a compositional necessity. at measure 179. That closure represents the resolution both of immediate tonal tensions and. At measure 222. indirectly. Chopin introduces the 3rd theme at measure 198. According to one analyst: The deceptive progression that extends the final cadence. Bars 1-43 44-68 69-93 Tonality F Minor F Minor. 285. This is so precisely because the progression it interrupts is perceived by any experienced listener to be a motion toward final closure. Its effect is far more powerful than that of its analogue at the end of the first cycle. Although in a different key than the exposition.

Theme 2 Closing Theme Development Transition Theme 1 Transition Theme III Transition Theme 1 Theme 2 Closing Theme Theme III Coda (from Transition) 94-127 128-143 C Minor. Using formal techniques similar to those of the 4 Ballades. Chopin’s Op. Chopin glorifies its arrival with the appearance of the closing theme and the thematic synthesis of the 3rd theme at the end of the piece. D-flat Major F Minor. 49 is possibly his most daring treatment of sonata allegro in his solo piano repertory. By obscuring the final harmony of the piece. A-flat Major A-flat Major A-flat Major A-flat Major Figure 4 A true harmonic journey (Figure 4). E-flat Major E-flat Major 144-153 156-172 181-199 200-223 224-233 236-260 261-294 295-307 321-322 323-333 C Minor. G-flat Major B Major B-flat Major. Chopin’s Fantaisie Op. III Conclusion . 49 is a masterpiece ranked equally with any of his 4 Ballades.

. 3rd theme tonal synthesis and abundant tonal ambiguity. complexity and depth of the larger works of Frèderic Chopin. Chopin creates some of the most climactic endings in the solo piano repertoire.Frèderic Chopin crafted the most glorious moments in his oeuvre not by following in the footsteps of Bach and Mozart. 1982. By embarking on a series of harmonic adventures full of formal mystery. Analysis reveals his exact techniques including the delayed structural V. the challenge lies with the analyst or performer to do justice to the breadth. foreshadowing. Chopin’s four Ballades and Fantaisie in F-Minor contain his most daring formal techniques which are romantically justified by the apotheosis they create. but by defying formal practice and using sonata allegro form as a point of departure rather than as an end unto itself. Bibliography 24 Vladimir Horowitz. That being said. and subsequent fulfillment. the mirror reprise. “the only truly great composer for the piano”24. Newsweek Magazine.

1985. Chopin . 1999. Jim. New York: Cambridge University Press. The Music of Chopin. 38 as narrative of national martyrdom. Chopin.The Four Ballades. Schirmer. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul plc. Samson. Jim. Jonathan. Complete Works for Piano. 1894. New York: Garland Publishing. 1992. New York: Oxford University Press. 5 and 6. Frèderic. Chopin's Polish ballade: Op. Nineteenth-Century Piano Music: Essays in Performance and Analysis. Newsweek Magazine. 1997. . Vladimir. Unfoldings: essays in Schenkerian theory and analysis. Edited by Carl Mikuli. Horowizt. Witten. Carl. 2010. New York: G. Schachter. New York: Oxford University Press.Bellman. May 1982.Vol. Samson. David. Edited by Joseph Nathan Straus.