Chopin: Eros and Thanatos. Absolute nihilism in form of sonata – op. 35 in si bemol minor


Our study has as reference point the orientation of the famous musicologist R.Reti towards motivic transformationalism, like we find, as example of analytical strategy, in the work of Bent36, where the analysis of sonata opera 35 in si bemol minor by Chopin is presented in the shape of summary; the possible subtitle, emblem of the whole analytical and interpretative orientation of Reti, could be: the flowering and decadence of the motivic principle at Chopin.

We adhere with admiration to the axiom from which his analytical version leaves: “each thematic segment is presented at least two times, but the themes do not transform, they don’t evolve, they remain static in their section. This internal immobility of sections is compensated by the fact that the work, in it’s whole, represents an evolution of themes, from one movement to the next, that amalgamate at all levels, a unique thematic nucleus.”

Even though the great musicologist identifies and highlights the structural and poetical importance of the first four measures from the initial movement of the sonata, he doesn’t accord a thematic role to the signal that opens the sonata, considering it just an introduction-we’re dealing, in this case, with a double conditioning(wrong, in our opinion) subtle but efficient: piano versions in their quasi totality (in the 50’s – the epoch of Reti’s study – still today) in the moment of the repetition of the expository section, jumps this measures, considering them as lifting the curtain.

The respect for the printed note – the majority of the editorial versions present the indication of repetition after the indication Grave, that the double bar separates from the order Doppio movimento, that presents us, after a few defective measures of melody, in which we have only the agitated accompaniment, that prepares the entry of theme I (m.9); double bar that separates the four measures from the rest of the movement, like it is written in the autograph from Varsovia(copy after Chopin’s original, but corrected by the author) is only an emphasis of the indication of changing the tempo and doesn’t represent a structural node, from which the repetition of the exposition must be made; here we have a set of arguments:

1. Motive a – the first three sounds of the first movement, represent in fact, a version of the first theme of the sonata like it results from the central section (the development), where it plays the most important role, in stretto with the other main theme(I) (definitive version, in eights, from measure number 9) and in the absence of the secondary-lyric theme in Re bemol major(m.41)

2. The exposition finishes in the tonality of re bemol major, on the dominant: it is not to be believed that Chopin, very sober, austere and classic in the respecting of traditional forms, would have imagined, through the resumption of the exposition from measure 5, in si bemol minor( jumping the first four measures in Grave)the production of a harmonic relation of the order of surprise: interrupted cadence V-VI, instead of the normal, expected and accepted cadence V-I used in the connection points of the structure. In this case, pianists like Reti(and others), should reconsider their views, to respect the logics of the harmonic, motivic and dramatic structure: the signal from Grave(m.1-4), not only that it is a main theme, but it’s incipit(re bemol) is in tonic relation towards the final phrase of the exposition, suspended on the chord of the dominant with septime. Thus, in our opinion it must be included when the exposition is resumed, because of it’s structural and dramatic importance. The role of the counterpoint-antagonist of the first theme in segment 1.2(development) that Chopin assigned from mistake to a simple introduction, couldn’t be justified.

3. The beheading caused by the repetition of the first section, eliminating the first four measures betray(doesn’t understand) their purpose of archetypal matrix, whose transformed version is: what It is perceived, the interval of sixth (re bemol – mi becar, in fact fa bemol) is the one of third overturned, the rhythmic model is just augmented, but in proportion, it is identical with the one from the third movement(the funeral March).

4. It is also a betrayal of rhythmic logics: the last four measures from the exposition represent also from a rhythmical point of view, the preparation of the ones from Grave: the rhythmical pulsation is harmonized through the extreme rallentando caused by the length of the two chords that take 4 measures, anticipating thus the tempo from Doppio moviemento, that has to be twice as fast than the initial signal, like Chopin prescribes.

We withhold, from the numerous dicographical versions, two great interpretations, that respect the indication of the author: Rachmaninov and Rubinstein, although the latter preferred to not execute the repetition of the exposition..

In the support of this recovery operation, not just textual, but also semantic, we have the researcher and pianist Ch.Rosen

In our analysis – oriented towards highlighting the role of the archetypal matrix from which all the themes and reports between tonalities(modulations) from each movement are born, like the entire sonata – we will also lean on the discovery – that belongs to the field of philological archeology, successive maybe, to the study of Reti – to the temporal order of the elaboration of the movements from the sonata: the funeral march anticipated with two years the apparition of the other acts of the opposite dramatic in op. 35.

There is the origin for the cells of the matrices with all the motivic transformations from which every theme of the sonata starts from, including the signal from Grave, descending jump where the third becomes the sixth, the rhythmic drawing characteristic to the archetypal module of the augmented funeral procession – seen through the lens.

A close look at the paradigmatic tables of the transformations of the matrices from every movement, that highlights profoundly the thematic kinship will take us to the following conclusion: the structural coherence, psychological, of movement, the dynamic reports, at all levels of each movement like at the level of the whole sonata is originated by the (omni)presence of the archetypal cell re bemol – si bemol, archetypal motivic spring from the third part, from where it is irradiated in the whole sonata.

From the sonata form of the first movement, passing through the pentapartite lied of the second and third movement until the deconstructed final at mircrostructural level, but in bipartite form at the level of macrostructure, the interval of minor third ascending-descending represents in fact the original source of the archetypal figures and of any theme in the musical work.

The specific pain caused by death, expressed in the implacable procession of the March, is collective, the degree of sublimation to which Chopin elevated it is of universal nature. The association of the idea of Death with the one of Love, represents in an intrinsic way, a complex, seductive and obsessive archetype.

This archetype that belongs to the dialectic class of the originating Dualism will be resumed, from the ancestral memory, by the majority of the coryphaeus of the european music romanticism. It’s terminal point, extreme musical consequence, is represented by the wagnerian Tristan.

The theme of Eros can be identified in the trio from Scherzo(secondary movement of the sonata): it is the stylized memory of a polish folk song: Niepodobienstwo( the Impossibility), whose literary text is the emblem of a subtile nihilism, hidden under a nostalgic mask; it Is in fact the expression of a generic inclination towards fatalism of the polish people: the girl that sings it, throws a garland, formed from two roses, in the waters of a river, putting the fate of her love in the hands of destiny: if it will continue to float until she will lose it from sight, she will be happy in love, and in opposite, if it will sink in the waves, her dreams will not come true…

Going way beyond the significance of the literary text, the musical substance of the popular melody stylized by Chopin, is, in fact, one of the numerous stances of the transformations of the archetypal motive from the funeral March: the author suggests with discretion but with the force of the obvious psychomusicality that the interpretative pianist must take notice of(sic!); the profound archetypal connection, between Life and Death – one of the forms of manifestation of the Yin-Yang archetype, of the dialectic indivisible Duality coincidentia oppositorum.

The fact that the sonata is born from and after the funeral March can radically change the analytical conception and ,the necessary consequence of this change, the piano execution.

The first effect, fundamental for the global vision(I.M.G) will be the orientation towards and from this third act of the vectors of the semantic tensions from the entire sonata.

This is also the destiny of all thematic apparitions: any thematic figure rises from the previous and predicts the next, which involves a progressive and constant transformation of a thematic nucleus – unique, in the case of opera 35, in their implacable flow towards the center of gravity constituted from the third movement, that became the Universal funeral March.

The subterranean plan of the evolution of the sound structure is thus the metaphor of Life – that is born from the fountain of Death where it returns to the infinte, to continue to be reborn to the infinte: this perpetuum mobile of Life-Death, so brilliantly expressed by one of the most aphoristic metaphores from the history of plastic arts: The Infinite Collumn of Brancusi, the most perfect(through the last possible reduction to essence) representation of the disturbing concept called Axis Mundi.

The absolute nihilism of the philosophical sense hidden in the semantic layers of the sonata, comes from the totally opposite character of the Final-Prestissimo: this final act of the sonata-drama opera 35 actualizes a deconstructed method of narration.

Chopin suggests through the decomposition, through the total and definitive destruction of the thematic fragments and of the harmonic reports that we verify in this real break of all that was enlightened before, the essence of the myth of final destruction, that is not followed by any rebirth.

The archetype returns to it’s germinal state(signal of descending third minor) and this return is followed by the last crumbling of the Edifice.

In the sonata opera 35, after the sublimated pain from the funeral March, the Revival is not contemplated: Craftsman Manole takes his flight towards freedom(becoming the greek myth of Icarus) after the building of his Labyrinth, collapses and dies, but no flowing water rises in the physical place of the impact with the earth, in the implied myth of the sonata opera 35.

The atomic wind from the Final is the conclusion of the last and irreversible destruction.

Inverse, in the romanian myth, where the symbolical sense of the river that is born in the point where the protagonist dies – craftsman Manole – is the metaphor of time, river Lethe , archetypal image(flowing water, symbolical element in the majority of known myths) of the implacable withdrawal of eternal life.

The famous equivocal reaction of Schumann regarding the sonata opera 35, does nothing but confirm the subterranean force produced by this mythical narration.

This is what Schumann38 writes commenting the Final: “ without melody and without joy, where a weird and horrible spirit breathes that annihilates all that opposes him, thus we listen charmed and without protesting, until the end, but also without praising: because this is not music.”

Although in a negative way, the schumannian intuitive perception(from subconscious) is clear: the rational refuses(what he cannot understand through logic) but the irrational accepts, and it is subjugated by the archetypal force of the coherence that addresses to it directly.

He says the final conclusion of the quote above in a metaphoric way: the final of opera 35 is metamusical, music beyond itself.


38 Robert Schumann.Gli scritti critici publisher.Ricordi, Milano, 1991, p. 813