Length: c. 30 minutes
About this Piece
Coming on the heels of the emotional melancholy of the closing measures of the Impromptu, Op. 36, the bold intensity of the Allegro maestoso opening of the B-minor Sonata is certain to have a heightened visceral effect. A rapid descending figure, one that is to be exploited throughout the first movement, is a dramatic clarion call: Chopin making a fist. A propulsive chordal procession follows the initial statement of the important figure, and there is a series of other ideas before the entry of the lovely nocturne-like secondary theme in D major. Yet another parade of themes follows, all of the materials cut from Chopin’s best musical bolt. If there is any faltering in the movement, it is in a diffuse development that begins with a halting contrapuntal procedure and carries on with some pianistic gymnastics that can seem uncharacteristically awkward (at least in some hands). As he did in the Second (“Funeral March”) Sonata, Chopin brings back only the movement’s secondary theme in the recapitulation, and the movement ends brilliantly in the key of B major.
The Scherzo second movement, a quicksilver (Molto vivace), etude-like tour de force in the distant key of E-flat major, has a serene, sustained middle section (which is suddenly pulled back to B major). There is exhilaration of the most compelling kind in this light-as-air music.
Following the bravura close, extreme contrast is to be expected in the Largo third movement, which caresses the ear with a combination of somewhat nervous lyricism and swooning etherealness, both carried to extreme though lovely lengths.
With its amazingly harmonized series of 14 octave Fs in the right hand forming an introduction, the Presto non tanto Finale emerges as a movement of rock-ribbed musical strength and genuine technical élan. It is a demon to perform, but spectacularly rewarding for the player who can bring off both the massive virtuosity and the heroic sweep. In its way, the movement is Chopin’s Appassionata, but with an ending in exuberant (B) major. —Orrin Howard