on Feb 25th, 2009Frédéric Chopin Sonata No. 1 Op. 4 in C minor
The Sonata No. 1 in C minor, Op. 4 by Frédéric Chopin was written by the composer in 1828. It was written during Chopin’s time as a student with Józef Elsner, to whom the sonata is dedicated. (Probably begun around July 1828, according to the Chopin chronicle site.)
The Sonata is in 4 movements, as follows:
- Allegro maestoso in C minor – The most classical part of the work, it incorporates elements such as a slow theme beginning with a mordent, counterpoint, and long periods when the left hand carries the theme. It is in the form of a sonata, and is technically challenging compared to the rest of the work. From a modern point of view, its ratio of innovation to technical difficulty is low, meaning that it takes a lot of work to master for very little of the innovation that characterises Chopin’s other works. In one respect this movement breaks from tradition completely – the second group of themes is based in C minor as much as is the first, so that the dramatic contrast of key which Cedric Thorpe-Davie among others identify as the heart of sonata form is lost.
- Menuetto in E-flat major- A simple, delightful minuet similar in style to those in the works of Beethoven and Mozart. Compared to the previous movement, the texture is much lighter, and the work is readily hummable whereas the Allegro’s theme is very pianistic and difficult to sing. This movement is frequently performed separately with the Larghetto following, both having a relaxed light tone contrasting with the rest of the work.
- Larghetto in A-flat major – The word larghetto in the Italian language means something like a little wide (broadly). In music it means somewhat slowly. This piece is set in time, which among pieces of that era makes it very unusual. According to musical theory of that era, a bar with 5 beats is logically divided into two simpler bars, one of 3 beats and another of 2 beats, and most of the few such pieces have the 3-beat part first, but this movement works the other way around, with first a 2-beat and then a 3-beat part of each bar, meaning that the 3rd beat of each 5-beat bar carries a secondary accent, which is marked explicitly in certain bars but not others. In other places, it can be inferred, and in still other places Chopin seems to defy this convention and not expect this. This is just one of many unusual characteristics of this short movement which make it delight to some, but a failed novelty in the mind of Huneker, in his introduction to the 1895 American publication of the Mikuli edition of the work. Other curiosities of this movement include exotic cross-rhythms: 5 against 4, 9 against 4, 14 against 3, and 7 against 4 and sotto voce low bass melody notes played by the right hand crossing over the left.
- Finale – Presto – Like the first movement, this movement hearkens back to the style of Beethoven (but not Mozart), but with a much livelier tempo. Its only serious criticism is great length (14 pages), with much repetition (though with variation).
Of all works of Chopin, this is among the least recorded and quite different from other well-known Chopin works. However, as noted above, the middle two movements show a different Chopin, one not rigidly adhering to the requirements of the conservatory and showing some of the innovative spirit so evident in his later works.