Georgian classical pianist Khatia Buniatishvili plays Frédéric Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B♭ minor, Op. 35, popularly known as The Funeral March.

Georgian classical pianist Khatia Buniatishvili plays Frédéric Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B♭ minor, Op. 35, popularly known as The Funeral March.

Frédéric Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2, “The Funeral March”

Frédéric Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35, commonly known as “The Funeral March,” is a pivotal piece in the piano repertoire, celebrated for its depth, complexity, and emotional range. Composed in 1839, the sonata reflects Chopin’s innovative approach to the piano sonata genre, diverging from classical traditions to express a more personal and narrative-driven musical experience.

The sonata is best known for its third movement, the funeral march, which has become one of Chopin’s most famous compositions in its own right. However, it’s important to appreciate the sonata as a whole for its cohesive artistic vision and the way Chopin integrates the march into a larger, emotionally varied framework. The work as a whole is a showcase of Chopin’s mastery of melody, his innovative use of the piano’s capabilities, and his ability to convey profound emotional experiences through music.

At the time of its composition, Chopin was living in Paris, immersed in a vibrant artistic and cultural scene, yet also grappling with the personal challenges of poor health and a tumultuous relationship with the French writer George Sand. These personal trials, combined with the political turmoil of the era, including the November Uprising in Chopin’s native Poland, imbue the sonata with a sense of depth and introspection.

“The Funeral March” sonata stands out for its unconventional structure and content. Chopin’s approach to the sonata form in this work was innovative for its time, blending classical forms with a more romantic sensibility that prioritized expression and narrative over traditional formal constraints. This approach allows the sonata to traverse a wide emotional landscape, from the tumultuous and dramatic to the serene and lyrical, culminating in a finale that is enigmatic and haunting.

Critics and scholars have long debated the sonata’s programmatic elements, with some suggesting that the funeral march and the work’s overall mood might reflect Chopin’s reflections on mortality, loss, and the human condition. Others view it more abstractly, as an exploration of the sonic and expressive possibilities of the piano.

In performance, “The Funeral March” sonata demands a deep sensitivity to its varied moods and technical challenges, requiring the pianist to convey its broad dynamic ranges, intricate melodies, and stark contrasts between movements. The work remains a staple of the concert repertoire and a profound testament to Chopin’s genius, continuing to move audiences with its beauty and depth.

The enduring appeal of Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 lies in its ability to connect with listeners on a deeply emotional level, transcending its historical context to speak to universal themes of life, death, and the beauty of human expression through music. Its place in the pantheon of great musical works is a testament to Chopin’s enduring legacy as a composer who profoundly reshaped the possibilities of the piano and the expressive range of music itself.


1. Grave – Doppio movimento

The first movement of Frédéric Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35, is marked “Grave – Doppio movimento.” This opening sets the stage for the entire sonata with its dramatic contrasts, depth of expression, and technical challenges. The movement is a compelling blend of the somber, the dramatic, and the lyrical, encapsulating Chopin’s ability to convey profound emotional states through his innovative approach to piano composition.

The movement begins with a brief but powerful introduction in the Grave tempo, immediately establishing a mood of solemnity and foreboding. This section is characterized by its dramatic chords and dark, brooding atmosphere, setting a tone of seriousness and introspection that resonates throughout the movement.

Following this, the piece transitions into the Doppio movimento (double speed) section, which forms the main body of the movement. This part is written in sonata form, a classical structure that Chopin both embraces and transforms with his unique stylistic signature. The exposition introduces two main themes: the first is tense and agitated, while the second offers a lyrical contrast, showcasing Chopin’s melodic inventiveness and the expressive capabilities of the piano.

The development section further explores these themes, intertwining and manipulating them to create a rich tapestry of musical ideas. This section deepens the emotional content of the movement, pushing the boundaries of the piano’s expressive range through innovative harmonic progressions and intricate passages that demand technical precision and emotional depth from the performer.

The recapitulation brings back the main themes, allowing for reflection and intensification of the movement’s initial emotional states. The movement concludes with a coda that revisits the Grave material from the opening, bringing the movement to a powerful and dramatic close.

Throughout this first movement, Chopin’s use of the piano goes beyond mere technical virtuosity to achieve a profound expressiveness. The dynamic contrasts, the delicate handling of melody and harmony, and the structural innovations all serve to create a deeply moving musical experience. The movement challenges performers to convey its complex emotional landscape, requiring not only technical skill but also a deep interpretative insight to bring out the nuances of Chopin’s musical language.

2. Scherzo

The second movement of Frédéric Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35, marked “Scherzo,” offers a stark contrast to the somber and dramatic atmosphere of the first movement. In keeping with the traditional scherzo form, which in Italian means “joke,” this movement is lighter, more playful, and features rapid shifts in dynamics and mood. However, Chopin’s interpretation of the scherzo is anything but conventional; it is infused with his characteristic depth and complexity, transforming the traditional form into a showcase of virtuosic brilliance and emotional intensity.

The movement is in B-flat minor, maintaining the key of the sonata, and it opens with a mysterious, almost menacing theme that immediately captures the listener’s attention. This theme is quickly contrasted with lighter, more lyrical passages that demonstrate Chopin’s melodic inventiveness and the expressive capabilities of the piano. The opening theme returns, creating a structure that is reminiscent of the traditional scherzo and trio form, but with a depth and complexity that is uniquely Chopin’s.

One of the most striking features of this scherzo is its use of sudden dynamic contrasts and abrupt changes in texture and mood. Chopin masterfully manipulates the piano’s range, from the thunderous to the ethereal, to create a sense of drama and unpredictability. This is complemented by his innovative harmonic language, which adds to the movement’s emotional intensity and sense of movement.

The central section of the scherzo is more lyrical and provides a moment of repose amid the tumult. Here, Chopin’s gift for melody shines through, with singing lines that flow over a delicate accompaniment. This section showcases the composer’s ability to create music of great beauty and expressiveness within the framework of a technically demanding piece.

As the movement progresses, the initial themes are revisited and developed, leading to a thrilling conclusion that recaptures the energy and dynamism of the opening. The scherzo ends with a flourish, leaving an impression of exhilarating virtuosity and emotional depth.

3. Marche funèbre: Lento

The third movement of Frédéric Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35, is perhaps the most famous and emotionally resonant part of the work, commonly known as the “Funeral March.” It is marked “Marche funèbre: Lento” and presents a profound exploration of grief, solemnity, and reflection. This movement, more than any other, has captured the imagination of the public and musicians alike, standing as a poignant expression of loss and mourning.

The “Funeral March” begins with a somber melody in the key of B-flat minor, characterized by its dignified and measured rhythm that mimics the procession of a funeral. This theme is both haunting and beautiful, encapsulating a sense of profound sorrow and dignity. The march is structured to allow the theme to recur, each time evoking a deep sense of lamentation and introspection. The simplicity and directness of the melody contribute to its emotional impact, rendering it universally resonant.

Following the march section, there is a middle section, or trio, in D-flat major, which offers a stark contrast to the mournful opening. This section is lyrical and serene, evoking a sense of peaceful repose or a comforting memory amidst the sorrow. The melody here is gentle and flowing, with a delicate accompaniment that creates an ethereal atmosphere. This tranquil interlude provides a moment of solace and reflection before the return of the funeral march theme.

As the march theme returns, it brings back the solemn atmosphere of the opening, but now with an even greater sense of finality and resignation. The movement concludes with a return to the somber dignity of the march, leaving a lasting impression of solemn beauty and profound sadness.

The “Funeral March” movement of Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 is notable for its emotional depth and the universality of its appeal. It has transcended its original context to become a symbol of mourning and remembrance in a wide range of settings, often performed at funerals and memorial services. The march has also influenced many other composers and has been arranged for various ensembles, attesting to its enduring power and significance.

The emotive “funeral march” has become well-known in popular culture. It was used at the state funerals of John F. Kennedy, Sir Winston Churchill, and Margaret Thatcher and those of Soviet leaders, including Leonid Brezhnev.

4. Finale: Presto

The fourth movement of Frédéric Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35, is marked “Finale: Presto.” This movement is a striking departure from the solemn, mournful atmosphere of the preceding “Funeral March,” offering instead a whirlwind of sound that has been described as a “wind howling around the gravestones.” The movement is brief, yet it encompasses a profound sense of urgency and tumult, serving as a dramatic conclusion to the sonata.

Characterized by its rapid tempo and relentless momentum, the finale is built on a perpetuum mobile of semiquaver (sixteenth note) passages that demand exceptional technical skill and stamina from the performer. The music barely pauses for breath, creating a sense of restlessness and agitation. The movement is in B-flat minor, the same key as the first movement and the sonata overall, maintaining the work’s overall coherence and unity.

The thematic material of the finale is elusive, with fleeting motifs that seem to appear and disappear before they can be fully grasped. This gives the movement an ephemeral, almost ghostly quality, as if the music is a fleeting shadow or a spirit escaping into the ether. The texture is predominantly light and transparent, with the rapid passages creating a shimmering effect that contrasts starkly with the heavy, solemn tones of the funeral march.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this movement is its brevity and the way it seems to evaporate into thin air at its conclusion. The ending comes abruptly, leaving listeners in a state of surprise and contemplation. This unexpected conclusion to the sonata has puzzled and fascinated musicians and scholars for generations, leading to various interpretations of its meaning and significance within the context of the entire work.


M. Özgür Nevres

Published by M. Özgür Nevres

I am Özgür Nevres, a software engineer, a former road racing cyclist, and also an amateur musician. I opened to share my favorite music. I also take care of stray cats & dogs. This website's all income goes directly to our furry friends. Please consider supporting me on Patreon, so I can help more animals!

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

  1. You and I most likely will never meet. Having said that you have a Skill/Gift/Tallent that is beyond any ordinary Artist! I watched and listened to you (Preform what appears to be from Memmory)! All I can say is Thank You for Sharing Your Beauty in Craft with us Bravo! You gained a new fan! Khatia!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.