Chopin’s Musical Biography

Chopin Opus 35, A Musical Biography

Chopin’s Musical Biography & Mastery of Large-Scale Form

Chopin composed a Marché in 1837, stark and unadorned in melody but quite powerful. Opus 35 is built around this Marché and is the foundation of the sonata. Two years after the Marché was written as it was originally called, the sonata became published 1839. The outline of the sonata is:

I Grave/Doppio Movimento

II Scherzo

III Marche funèbre

IV Finale

Beethoven’s Sonata no. 12 op 26 is often thought of as an influence to Chopin’s opus 35. It has a similar construction; the first movement is a theme and variation. The second movement a scherzo, the third movement a funeral march and the fourth movement is a finale of unrelenting sixteenth notes. It is known Chopin played and admired it. Additionally he used it a great deal in his teaching. Many of his students reported working on it. Chopin’s earlier attempt at the sonata was in 1829 with his first sonata in c minor. Haslinger the publisher agreed to publish it in 1829 but later changed his mind. With Chopin’s works now being in demand, Haslinger had it engraved to begin publication. Chopin refused to authorize its publication but learned it was already in distribution in a letter from his father. He had recently made his home in Paris, following an unsuccessful stay in Vienna. Beethoven’s presence was still larger than life in Vienna as master of the sonata form, and Chopin wanted to prove he too had mastery of the large-scale form. He did not want to be judged by a composition written while he was still a student.

Chopin gave a preview performance of the Marché and reviews of this performance state Chopin had a ghostly appearance. The solemn feeling of the Marché brought tears to the eyes of the audience and Chopin removing the word funèbre from the title of the Marché intensified the music’s painful impact.

Marquis de Custine, left the most evocative corroboration in a letter of 22 October 1838 to Sophie Gay:

‘Consumption has seized that figure and has made of it a soul without a body. To say his farewells to us…then, to finish, funeral marches that, despite myself, made me dissolve in tears’.

Opus 35 is structured as a narrative, a story where each of the movements leads directly into the next. The stormy agitated chords of the coda in the first movement become the theme of the scherzo.

The four bar introduction to the first movement marked grave could just as easily be an introduction to the Marché. The finale which is a miniature sonata in and of itself sums it all up in one of the most mystifying enigmatic pieces ever written for the piano in a minute and a half.

The exposition in the first movement depicts a stormy life of a Polish émigré going first to Vienna then onwards to Paris, France. The turbulence and agitation of the first theme group in the exposition exhibits Chopin’s inner turmoil, which is strongly contrasted with a lyrical second theme group in the exposition. The sarcastic side of Chopin’s personality is shown in the Scherzo. The scherzo is fiery and displays a great deal of rage with explosive chords, which emulate the repeated tonic note as in the Marché. In Chopin’s life there was also a great deal of unrest over political problems in Poland as well as a tumultuous relationship with George Sand. Another source of controversy was his opposition to the romantic climate in which he was immersed in Paris. An ingenious composer with strong roots in classical and baroque music, Chopin’s music was also revolutionary. Lyrical trios in the second and third movements follow the classical sonata outline going to the relative major keys yet still have Chopin’s distinctive nocturne style. This put his signature on the classical sonata form. Chopin’s frail health continued to deteriorate and he was often consumed with thoughts of death, hence the foundation of the sonata is the Marché. Friends said he often stated “please make sure I am not buried alive”.

Chopin’s Salon in Nohant, the Home of George Sand, Paris, France Where He Spent Many Hours Working on his Musical Biography

Chopin establishes mastery of large-scale composition (sonata form) with his own signature style in his only composition without dedication. Chopin’s contribution to the sonata form development is substantial in opus 35.  As the sonata form developed from the Baroque period of pieces with multiple movements each with their own character this developed into the sonata form of the classical period, Beethoven first expanded the form than began to compress the form and link the movements together motivicaly. Opus 35 continues the development of the sonata form with creative mastery and development of motives, which penetrate each other and are linked together.

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Kossuth-A Symphonic Poem

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Bartok’s Kossuth, A Symphonic Tone Poem
Kossuth, a symphonic poem written by Béla Bartók in 1903, was written in honor of the Hungarian politician Lajos Kossuth, a hero of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. Bartók’s symphonic poem music tells the story of Kossuth, starting with a portrait of him, recounting the revolution and in the eight movements paints a picture of the Austrians approaching by using a minor key parody of the Austrian National Anthem, the ensuing battle and defeat of the Hungarians.
The music of Richard Strauss had a strong influence on Bartók, in particular his symphonic poem Ein Heldenleben, which literally means a heroic life or a hero’s life. Ein Heldenleben movements are as follows:
1. Der Held (The Hero)
2. Des Helden Widersacher (The Hero’s Adversaries)
3. Des Helden Gefährtin (The Hero’s Companion)
4. Des Helden Walstatt (The Hero at Battle)
5. Des Helden Friedenswerke (The Hero’s Works of Peace)
6. Des Helden Weltflucht und Vollendung (The Hero’s Retirement from this World and Consummation)
Throughout Ein Heldenleben, Strauss employs the technique of leitmotif that Richard Wagner used so liberally, but most always as elements of its enlarged sonata-rondo symphonic structure. With the influence of Strauss in addition to Bartok’s strong nationalistic feeling towards Hungary Bartok later wrote in his autobiography “…It was worth while creating something specifically Hungarian in music.” [i]
Lasting around twenty minutes, Kossuth is in ten movements, as follows:
1. Kossuth
2. What sorrow weighs on your soul, dear husband? (Kossuth’s wife)
3. The fatherland is in danger
4. Once we lived better days
5. But our plight grew worse
6. To battle
7. Come forth, ye Magyar heroes of true valor
8. …(Theme of the Austrian army slowly approaching)
9. All is over
10. A hopeless silence reigns
The Kossuth premiered in Budapest January 13, 1904 and created a sensation at its Budapest premiere. Bartók’s own program notes for the piece were as follows:
The year 1848 is one of the most eventful in Hungarian history. It was the year of the Hungarian revolt-a life and death struggle of the nation for freedom. The leader, the heart and soul of this struggle, was Lajos (Louis) Kossuth. As Austria saw, in 1849, that the war was going against her, she concluded an alliance with Russia. A crushing blow was inflicted upon the Hungarian Army, and the hope of an independent Hungarian kingdom was shattered-apparently forever. These events serve as the basis for the symphonic poem. [ii]

The Kossuth funeral march is Bartók’s piano transcription of the ninth and tenth movements of the symphonic poem. Bartók indicated in his program notes that “the thematic material beginning in bar 23: is a direct borrowing of the theme of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.” [iii]
The Hungarian Gypsy Scale is a name given by different authorities to two different scale forms. The more commonly used of these scales is the fourth mode of the Double Harmonic Scale, it can be formulated by sharpening the 4th degree of the harmonic minor scale to introduce an augmented second.

Scale in Corresponding key of Kossuth:
A: A B C D# E F G# or A B C D# E F G
The thematic material or Leitmotif of Kossuth is derived from the Hungarian Scale and reappears with different variations and represents both Kossuth as well as the concept of Magyar nationalism. Dance rhythms called verbunkos are hybrids of original musical materials, which are derived from diverse ethnic sources, which originated in the seventeenth century and developed into the nineteenth century Viennese classicism described as style hongrois. Verbunkos are regarded as the ‘soul’ of Hungarian/Magyar Music and contribute to the strong Hungarian nationalistic feel of the Kossuth Symphonic Poem. These rhythms include long-short-short-long choriambus, an accented short-long ‘Scotch Snap’ as well as Kuric fourths, which use a rhythmic rebound between the dominant drone and the tonic in the upper voices.
Kossuth Funeral March has an ABA1 form in a minor. An introduction leads into the A section. The Kossuth Leitmotif comes in and is played over the somber double dotted funereal rhythm along with the short short long rhythm of the style hongrois. An ascending sequence with a melodic variation, which is derived from Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, is the B section. The concluding A section is a coda, which uses a similar chord progression of the introduction.
Bartók continued to collect, study and do extensive research on Hungarian folk tunes as well as other countries such as Romania, Transylvania and North Africa. His compositions often reflected his research, and Bartók managed to develop a style that was uniquely his own, which was a combination of his ethnomusicology research of folk tunes and rhythms, a virtuosic and percussive technique, which he managed to skillfully incorporate along with the training he received at the Budapest Conservatory. Bartók eventually migrated to New York City in the USA, sadly due to political turmoil of the time, and struggled to earn a meager living with his ethnomusicology research, piano performances, concerts and compositions. His deep respect of humanity life and nature will always be admired. Although, his music received more praise posthumously, Bèla Bartók’s music continues to educate inspire and delight music lovers worldwide.

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[i] BÉLA BARTÓK, Lajos Lesznai, 1961, Great Britain J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd Aldine House, p. 28
[ii] Béla Bartók, Piano Music of Béla Bartók, The Archive Edition, Edited by Dr. Benjamin Suchoff
[iii] Béla Bartók, Piano Music of Béla Bartók, The Archive Edition, Edited by Dr. Benjamin Suchoff