Frédéric Chopin: Piano Sonata No.3


The last of the three piano sonatas that Frédéric Chopin composed has since been regarded as his most technically complex to perform. Composed in 1844 during his mature years, the sonata explores structures that were made popular by his German contemporaries. This weighty four-movement sonata truly cements Chopin’s Romantic style as each movement, set in a different style, explores a new blank canvas. 


The Music
Movement I – Allegro maestoso

Written in the style of a ballade, the important opening movement begins with a largely chordal theme. The bold use of the middle range brings the hands together before the music begins to run off in different directions. Marked forte, the opening is the pinnacle for the whole sonata, as the themes heard henceforth all relay back in some way, be it rhythm, tone or dynamic. The next theme would be expected to keep this powerful theme going, however Chopin quickly creates a quiet atmosphere for a new lyrical theme to emerge. The soft playing is soon interrupted by louder phrases, to show a musical grapple between the two themes. 

Cascading arpeggios and fast-moving runs are intricate and begin to weave new lyrical melodies that keep this movement developing. Chopin takes the listener through a nocturne-like section before a strong explosion of sound takes over and a new section begins. After many twists and turns during this movement, the music concludes with a reprise of the first lyrical theme before fragments of the opening chordal theme finishes the movement off in powerful style. 


Movement II – Scherzo

The frightfully fast scherzo, now in Eb major, is light and airy with no proper melodic center. The lyrical central section offers a short respite from the etudal opening, and has been likened to themes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This theme does not last for too long however before the quick opening theme takes over and rushes this short movement to its conclusion. 


Movement III – Largo

The opening reflective ‘Largo’ section starts the scherzo and trio movement off with high emotional intensity. The character and style of the piece is discovered through the lens of a nocturne. Throughout each section of this movement there is a feeling of nostalgia, which is woven into the music in different ways, such as using the lower end of the piano to create harmonics, as well as sticking to a fairly slow tempo. As with most of this movement, the piece ends quietly as the music drifts off into silence. 


Movement IV – Finale – Presto non tanto

The bold finale movement starts with the appearance of a rondo, but it is linked to the opening movement and is actually set as a ballade. The bouncy 6/8 time signature adds spirit to the music as the first powerful theme sets the scene for the finale. A frenzied ‘Presto’ section, which airs back to the scherzo second movement, takes hold of the movement. Between hearing new themes and these faster sections, one can easily get carried away listening to the music. Chopin builds momentum and power throughout this whole movement, with each twist and turn perfectly placed to surprise the listener. Electrifying scalic runs and bold chordal progressions keep the thrill of the movement very high as themes are thrown left right and centre. As anticipated, all the power that has been built up throughout the movement finally explodes into a huge piano-wide scalic run, before the final loud and proud B major chords finish this movement off in scintillating style. This sonata was the only of the three that ended in the major. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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