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FRÉDÉRIC CHOPIN (1810 - 1849)

Sonata No.3 in B Minor, Op 58

  Allegro maestoso
  Scherzo: Molto vivace
  Finale: Presto, non tanto

Chopin wrote the Piano Sonata in B Minor, his last large-scale composition for piano, during the summer of 1844, when he was 34. He composed the sonata at Nohant, the summer estate in central France he shared with the novelist George Sand. That summer represented a last moment of stasis in the composer's life over the next several years his relationship with Sand would deteriorate, and his health, long ravaged by tuberculosis, would begin to fail irretrievably. Dedicated to Madame la Comtesse Emilie de Perthuis, a friend and pupil, the Sonata in B Minor was published in 1845. Chopin himself never performed it in public.

Chopin's sonatas have come in for a hard time from some critics, and this criticism intensifies to the degree that they depart from the formal pattern of classical piano sonata. But it is far better to take these sonatas on their own terms and recognize that Chopin, like Beethoven before him, was willing to stretch classical forms for his own expressive purposes. The opening Allegro maestoso does indeed have a majestic beginning with the first theme flashing downward out of the silence, followed moments later by the gorgeous second subject in D major, marked sostenuto. The movement treats both these ideas but dispenses with a complete recapitulation and closes with a restatement of the second theme. The brief Molto vivace is a scherzo, yet here that form is without the violence it sometimes takes on in Beethoven. This scherzo has a distinctly light touch, with the music flickering and flashing across the keyboard (the right-hand part is particularly demanding). A quiet legato middle section offers a moment of repose before the returning of the opening rush.

Chopin launches the lengthy Largo with sharply dotted rhythms, over which the main theme-itself dotted and marked cantabile-rises quietly and gracefully. This movement is also in ternary form, with a flowing middle section in E major. The finale Presto non tanto leaps to life with a powerful eight bar introduction built of octaves before the main theme, correctly marked Agitato, launches this rondo in B minor. Of unsurpassed difficulty, this final movement-one of the greatest in the Chopin sonatas-brings the work to a brilliant close.

Four Mazurkas, Op. 68

  Vivace, in C Major
  Lento, in a minor
  Allegro, ma non troppo, in F Major
  Andantino, in f minor

A mazurka is a Polish country dance that originated in the village of Mazovia, near Warsaw (the residents were referred to as Mazurs). The dance was in triple time, with the accent often on the second (or third) beat rather than the first. In its original form the mazurka was danced by groups of couples who would separate and return, and it was sometimes accompanied by the bagpipe. Chopin loved this dance, and he wrote about sixty mazurkas throughout his lifetime, the first when he was 14, the last in the year of his death. A devout Polish nationalist, Chopin lived his adult life in exile in Paris, and no doubt his use of the form brought an important feeling of contact with his homeland, then under Russian subjugation. Yet Chopin's mazurkas are not a matter of self-consciously assuming the trappings of Polish folk music. Instead, he took the general form of the mazurka-sometimes raw and wild in its original form-and used it to write his own music, often quite original in matters of rhythm and harmony.