Chopin composed three piano sonatas over his career. The first dates from Chopin’s teenage years and is rarely performed in public. It was dedicated to Jo?zef Elsner, who was Chopin’s teacher at the time, and it adheres in some ways to the traditional forms, but it has a couple of notable features. One of these is a third movement in 5/4 time, a very unusual choice.
The other two Piano Sonatas date from later years, one written in 1839 and one in 1844. Chopin completed the Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35 in 1839. It is known by many as “The Funeral March,” named for the famous third movement. There is no shortage of drama in this Sonata, especially in the first and last movements. Chopin uses his considerable gifts for innovative harmony here, and the work consistently impresses, especially in the virtuosic conclusion. Contemporary critics didn’t know quite what to make of the sonata at first, but this is not surprising, considering that this work seems to mark the transition into Chopin’s mature style.
Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor was composed when Chopin was thirty-four years old and his health was growing ever more fragile. Chopin was not able to give adequate time to composition while teaching and maintaining his status in Parisian society, so he composed mostly during summers at George Sand’s estate in Nohant. The Piano Sonata in B minor, one of the works from Nohant, is a large-scale work in four movements. Although Chopin’s composition was intimately tied to his playing, this was one work not premiered by Chopin, nor did he ever play it in a public performance. It has an emotional and noble opening movement, a light Molto Vivace second movement, a graceful Largo and an astounding virtuosic finale. All of the hallmarks of Chopin’s style are here: tumultuous and talented playing, shifting moods, lyrical melodies, and an almost unbearable sense of longing. It is a true masterpiece and represents the culmination of a lifetime (albeit short) of piano playing.