It’s a question usually asked about composers trying to write symphonies, but one musicologist asks: “What did it mean for Chopin to be an artist living in a world haunted by the ghost of Beethoven?”
At first blush, perhaps Chopin didn’t care. There’s plenty of evidence that the fist-shaking, thunderous, driven, Beethoven (think 9th Symphony, or “Hammerklavier” Sonata) left Fryderyk Chopin cold. He found it coarse, vulgar, and distasteful.
But wait. There is to be sure another side of Beethoven: the heart-breaking lyricism of the Pastoral symphony, or Pathetique sonata. Combine that with Ludwig’s technical mastery – especially in the theme and variations form, and you come up with Chopin’s favorite Beethoven: the unusual, beautiful, and masterful Piano Sonata No. 12.
For starters: it’s in A-flat, Chopin’s favorite key. Next: the opening movement is a theme and variations. As one pupil remembered, “Chopin called my attention to its structure, to the intentions of the composer throughout; showing me the great variety of touch and treatment demanded.”
Beethoven moves up the Scherzo to the second movement, rather than the customary third. Chopin did the same thing in his sonatas…to set up the emotional centerpiece of the entire work to be…
A Funeral March in the third movement. Sound familiar? And for a kicker, a brisk, brilliant, and seemingly unrelated final movement. Hmmm.
THIS was the Beethoven Chopin adored – the music he both assigned his students, and even played himself. And proved to be the model for all four of Chopin’s own sonatas. Chopin on Beethoven: grudging in words; admiring in deeds. - Jennifer Foster