Episode 155: Chopin's First - 'Seventeen Come Sonata'

Piano Sonata No. 1 in C minor, Op. 4

rc-seventeen-200“The sonata is the dullest music penned by Chopin, but as a whole it hangs together as a sonata better than its two successors.” - James Huneker

Fryderyk Chopin was just seventeen when he composed his First Piano Sonata, and it shows. The dismissive comments from his American biographer James Huneker reflect the common 19th-century view of Chopin’s first effort at the form. Classically-oriented, in the four-movement model of, say, Schubert, but…clunky. Awkward. A bit too…precious.

And yet. As the sonata goes on so does Chopin’s confidence. It’s like watching an awkward fawn grow into a graceful deer. Chopin does a fair job channeling Beethoven in the second movement minuet. And in the Larghetto, you hear Chopin march to his own beat. REALLY – the whole third movement is in 5/4 time, way ahead of Tchaikovsky – or Dave Brubeck, for that matter.

And even old Huneker hands it to Chopin in the Finale, where he detects “the breath of a stirring spirit.” Or as modern-day musicologist Frank Cooper puts it, “listening to this Sonata becomes a journey from the aspects of the classically “correct” in the first two movements to the uncertain but exciting newness of Romanticism in the last two.” Not bad for a 17-year old kid from Warsaw. - Benjamin K. Roe

Radio Chopin Episode 155: Chopin's First - 'Seventeen Come Sonata'



Piano Sonata No. 1 in C minor, Op. 4




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