Schubert And Chopin – Quotation In Piano Sonata And Nocturne

29 Jan

Franz Schubert’s Piano Sonata No. 19 in C- Minor and Frederic Chopin’s Nocturne No.3 in B- Major were composed in the first half of the 19th century.  Schubert’s Sonata in C minor D. 958 was written in 1828 but was left unpublished until a decade later.  Chopin’s Nocturne No. 3 in B – Major was written between 1830 and 1832.   A familiar melodic idea from Schubert’s sonata appears in the B section of Chopin’s Nocturne.  Marked as agitato, the chaotic interlude provides contrast to the otherwise tranquil and pensive A section of the Nocturne.  Let us examine the two themes:

Franz Schubert – Piano Sonata No. 19 in C-Minor, D. 958


The main theme of the sonata (outlined in red) appears under numerous guises in one of Schubert’s last major piano works.  This passage, taken from the opening measures, holds many similarities to a section in Chopin’s Nocturne No. 3 in B-Major.  Below I have outlined the harmonic components:

Section key: C minor

Measure 1 = C minor (i)
Measure 2 = F minor (iv)
Measure 3= C 7 (V of new I)
Measure 4 = F major (I)

The first half of the passage lingers in the sonata’s mother key of C minor.  A simple 1 to 4 progression occurs.  However, the subsequent measure consisting of C 7 chord prepares for a resolution on the new tonic of F major.  This key switch allows a crucial note outside the key of C-minor (the E natural) to exist in the main theme.  Let us examine:

The theme in the right hand starts on scale degree 1 (C), and slides up to scale degree 3 then down to 2 (Eb to D) with two passing tones (degrees 7 and 1: Bb to C: these are also important in the Nocturne).  The melody then goes back up to the raised scale degree 3 (E natural this time) before continuing on to a G, and finally landing on the new tonic of F.

The left hand staggers arpeggios that chromatically surround the 5th of each chord.  This motion is outlined in the blue notes.

Both the main theme and the chromatic neighbor notes in the left hand are found in Chopin’s Nocturne No. 3.

Frederick Chopin – Nocturne No. 3 in B Major, Op. 9


Analogous to the sonata, the harmonic underpinnings of Chopin’s Nocturne follow the same progression in the key of B minor:

Section Key: B minor
Measure 1 = B minor (i)
Measure 2 = E minor (iv)
Measure 3 = B 7 (V of new i)
Measure 4 = E minor (i)

The theme in the right hand (red notes) starts on scale degree 1 (B), and slides up to scale degree 3 then down to 2 (D to C#) with two passing tones (degrees 7 and 1: D to E; these are 8th notes instead of pedaling 16th notes like in Schubert’s sonata).  The melody then goes back up to the raised scale degree 3 (D# this time) before continuing on to a F#, and finally landing back on the new tonic of E minor.

Just like the sonata, the left hand staggers arpeggios that chromatically surround the 5th of each chord.  This motion is outlined in the blue notes.

The only salient difference between the two themes is the final tonic on which the melody resolves upon.  For Schubert, this is a major chord.  For Chopin this is a minor chord.  Yet the same melody, with slight melodic and rhythmic ornaments appears in both of these works.  Judging by the dates, it if difficult to predict which piece might have been available to the public.  Perhaps Schubert used this passage from Chopin to provide the harmonic and melodic components of his last piano works.  Or perhaps Chopin quoted the Schubert as a tribute to the composer.

Advertisements

6 Responses to “Schubert And Chopin – Quotation In Piano Sonata And Nocturne”

  1. Thome May 7, 2011 at 11:54 am #

    Nice article.
    But this doesn’t make sence to me: “Chopin’s Nocturne No. 3 in B – Major was written between 1830 and 1832.” and ” Perhaps Schubert used this passage from Chopin to provide the harmonic and melodic components of his last piano works”
    Wikipedia: Franz Peter Schubert (German pronunciation: [ˈfʁants ˈʃuːbɛɐ̯t]; January 31, 1797 – November 19, 1828) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schubert

    Schubert was already dead when Chopin supposedly wrote his Nocturne no.3 so how could he have used Chopins passage?
    Regards, Thome

    • Parker May 7, 2011 at 6:41 pm #

      Thanks Thome for pointing that out! I certainly mixed my information up, even after my initial Wikipedia search. Perhaps we should correct my initial assumption and propose the idea that Chopin might have borrowed material from Schubert for his Nocturne No. 3. I am curious on whether this simple comparison has been addressed in musicology literature. The similarity between the two pieces are too salient to be dismissed!

      – Parker

  2. Dr Crawford Howie November 14, 2011 at 11:28 am #

    Schubert’s C-minor Sonata may have been written before Chopin’s Nocturne, but it wasn’t published until 1839 – so it’s highly unlikely that Chopin heard the sonata in the early 1830s before composing his piece. The thematic similarities between these sonata and the nocturne are surely coincidental and don’t point to any influence of one composer on the other.

    • Parker November 14, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

      Thanks Dr. Crawford for the clarification! I guess great minds (or at least composers) do think alike 😉

      • CX August 11, 2014 at 6:40 am #

        That was the time Chopin was around Vienna though!

  3. Piotr Kwiatkowski April 17, 2013 at 6:33 pm #

    Chopin is a Composer which depends on the music like myself the music says what and where they want to. we as composers try to control it but it does not always succeed often the music is stronger and requires us just this melody and then we can see what happens here is simply the language of music I can not say otherwise go here or go there with Menen answer it is simply the music language which sometimes says the same but as a whole we tell other stories.

    Piotr Kwiatkowski.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: