Thursday, April 24, 2014

Chopin - Sonata in G Minor For Piano And Cello

Frédéric Chopin has been called the poet of the piano, and for good reason. Chopin wrote over 200 hundred pieces in his short life with the vast majority of them being for solo piano, some of the greatest music ever written for any instrument. Early in his career he composed two piano concertos and 4 other works for piano and orchestra, a few songs for voice and piano, and a handful of chamber music pieces. But it is interesting to note that all of Chopin's collected works were either for the piano or included the piano.  Seldom has a major composer been associated almost exclusively with one instrument.

After the piano, the cello seems to have been Chopin's favorite instrument. He wrote three pieces for cello and piano, more than for any other instrument. Two of the pieces were written early in his career while the Sonata For Piano And Cello was written late in his career, and it was the last work to be published while the composer was alive.

It was written in 1845-1846, a time of personal turmoil and physical illness for Chopin. His relationship with George Sand, the French authoress, had come to an end and the tuberculosis that he had been suffering with for years was getting worse.  He struggled with the sonata and wrote to his sister:
I write a little and cross out a lot. Sometimes I am pleased with it, sometimes not. I throw it into a corner and pick it up again. 
Auguste Franchomme
Chopin wrote the sonata for his friend the cellist Auguste Franchomme and also dedicated the work to him.  The work has never been a popular one, but it does give a glimpse of where Chopin may have been headed with his music if he had lived longer.  The sonata is in 4 movements:

I. Allegro moderato -  The work begins with an introduction by the piano. After this, the cello enters with a theme that is taken from material in the introduction. Most of the material of the first movement is derived from the piano introduction. The second theme is more gentle and is not developed; when it appears again it remains the same as its first hearing. New themes are heard with each changing the character of the mood. Indeed, the ever-changing moods and complexity of the first movement has been one of the reasons the sonata is not one of Chopin's more popular works. The development section continues introducing themes and changing others. The recapitulation is much shorter as some  f the themes are not revisited, but the gentle second theme is heard once again. Chopin pushes the music to the conclusion of the movement and it ends with two terse chords.

II. Scherzo -  The scherzo is written in D minor and varies from lyrical to rapid runs and hammered chords. The trio is in D major with a long melody sung by the cello.  The scherzo is repeated and ends with a loud chord.

III. Largo -  A brief nocturne written in B-flat major. Piano and cello have a tender conversation that gently ends all too soon.

IV. Finale, Allegro -  Chopin begins the finale with a dramatic theme. The second theme is less dramatic but still carries the dotted rhythms of the  first theme. The dotted rhythms continue as Chopin changes the mood with material in the major mode. The development section has Chopin treat material contrapuntally. The tempo increases and both instruments make their way to the brilliant ending in G major.

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