Nicholas Kennedy


Fryderyk Chopin’s Fantasy in F minor, Op. 49 (1841) is considered a pinnacle of the composer’s oeuvre. Invoking the so-called stylus phantasticus, the Fantasy is presumed to betray something of Chopin’s legendary free improvisations, and includes the expected diversity of musical material in different metres, keys and tempi. Yet the work also evinces a quasi-Classical regularity, alluding to several set forms. Strikingly, while commentators such as Halina Goldberg, John Rink and Jeffrey Kallberg have explored hermeneutic, topical and formal ramifications of certain sections of the piece, few scholars have attempted a comprehensive structural analysis of the Fantasy. One exception is Carl Schachter, who parses the Fantasy from a Schenkerian standpoint and proposes a rotational basis for the return of themes. However, Schachter’s interpretation does not fully explain the piece’s reliance upon fifth relations, which seems to have more conservative, Classical origins. In this paper, I explore how Chopin’s Fantasy may be seen to exhibit a stylised sonata allegro form, in which both first and second subjects are split into two parts in different keys. As such, I apply the concept of tonal pairing, championed by such authors as Robert Bailey and Peter Smith, to a seminal work of Chopin, shedding further light on Chopin’s inventive manipulation of Classical sonata form. I will also discuss elements of cyclic form as discussed by Schachter, and devices by which Chopin strengthens or weakens the sense of telos. I conclude that a loose sonata form is the predominant mode of motivic and tonal organisation in Chopin’s Fantasy, Op. 49, and that many of the seeming departures from this form can be accounted for as transitions or instances of teleological genesis.


Chopin, fantasy, sonata form, rotational form, tonal pairing

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The piano music of Fryderyk Chopin (1810–1849) is beloved worldwide. It touches the heart with the directness of a friend, one who has known each listener long before the first note. But it is also the handiwork of a revolutionary: a Pole oozing national pride, a pianist who would rethink how to play and write for his instrument, and a genius composer who forged new, influential paths in harmony, genre and structure. Chopin’s Fantasy, Op. 49 (1841) ranks among the composer’s greatest works. Bearing the moniker ‘Fantasy’, the piece is presumed to evince the gifts of Chopin the improviser. Indeed, it has been hailed as a great, late example of the quasi-improvisatory yet serious stylus phantasticus, never descending into the frivolity of the potpourri.Carl Schachter, ‘Chopin’s Fantasy, Op. 49: The two-key scheme’, in Unfoldings: Essays in Schenkerian Theory and Analysis, ed. Joseph N. Straus (Cary, NC: Oxford University Press, 1998), 260. Yet for all its surface diversity, this work is far more regular than its title might suggest, relying heavily on sectional return. As will be shown, the Fantasy’s structural layout borrows elements from a range of established forms, including sonata, ternary and cyclic arrangements.

Surprisingly, the fascinating structure of Op. 49 has been scantily unpacked by scholars. Halina Goldberg identifies the narrative implications of various sections and allusions to other works, without proposing a larger architecture underwriting them.Halina Goldberg, ‘“Remembering that tale of grief”: The prophetic voice in Chopin’s music’, in Halina Goldberg (ed.), The Age of Chopin: Interdisciplinary Studies (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2004), 74–79. Jeffrey Kallberg observes a sonata-like ‘principal thematic group’ and ‘Romantic reinterpretation of the Classical recapitulation’, but does not discuss the expositional modules which define a sonata-allegro.Jeffrey Kallberg, ‘Chopin’s last style’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, 38/2 (1985), 274–5. Jim Samson explores how the piece alludes to conventions of the fantasy genre and other works by Chopin, yet eschews a more in-depth analysis of the form.Jim Samson, ‘Chopin and genre’, Music Analysis, 8/3 (1989), 226–8. By far the most detailed treatment is that of Carl Schachter, who feels the work exhibits a cyclic structure. However, even this interpretation, bolstered by extensive Schenkerian analysis, does not fully account for the Classical regularity of some of the thematic and tonal relations at play.Schachter, ‘Chopin’s Fantasy’, 260–287.

In this essay, I propose a sonata form-based reading of the Fantasy. Beginning with general background on the fantasy genre and Chopin’s brand of sonata form, I offer a detailed analysis of the piece from beginning to end, exploring its sonata-form elements in terms of James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy’s highly regarded Sonata Theory.For a full explication of this theory, see James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy, Elements of Sonata Theory: Norms, Types and Deformations in the Late Eighteenth-Century Sonata (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2006). Admittedly, Hepokoski and Darcy view sonata form as having a rotational basis; see ibid., 611–614. I will also discuss issues of directional tonality and tonal pairing relevant to the work’s unique tonal layout, in which both primary and secondary modules include music in different keys. Besides sonata form, I will explore elements of cyclic form as discussed by Schachter, and devices by which Chopin manipulates the sense of telos in order to clarify elements of the form. These devices include the gradual promotion of the march topic within the sonata exposition (and corresponding recapitulation), leading inexorably towards the closing module, and the dream-like chorale episode in the development, difficult to explain within a rotational reading alone. I conclude that a loose sonata form operates consistently alongside cyclic form in governing the large-scale structure of this piece, and that several of the work’s formal anomalies may be explained as instances of teleological genesis.

I am aware that reading a fantasy through the prism of sonata form is unorthodox. After all, fantasies were traditionally known for having no regular form, in the manner of a free extemporisation.For A. B. Marx, while sonata form represented the ne plus ultra of regular forms, the free fantasy was in an even higher class of perfection. See Adolf Bernhard Marx, Die Lehre von der musikalischen Komposition [The theory of musical composition] (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1837–47), iii:272–3; cited in Scott Burnham, ‘Form’, in Thomas Christensen (ed.), The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 887. For Carl Czerny:

If a well-written composition can be compared with a noble architectural edifice in which symmetry must predominate, then a fantasy well done is akin to a beautiful English garden, seemingly irregular, but full of surprising variety.Carl Czerny, A Systematic Introduction to Improvisation on the Pianoforte, Op. 200, tr. and ed. Alice Mitchell (New York, NY: Longman, 1983), 2; quoted in Schachter, ‘Chopin’s Fantasy’, 260.

Czerny’s description is unarguably pertinent to many fantasies by Beethoven, Mozart, C. P. E. Bach and others. These pieces abound in surprising harmonic and tonal twists, diverse moods and textures, and various other subversions of balance and predictability.Schachter, ‘Chopin’s Fantasy’, 260. However, Czerny goes on to make an instructive concession: a good fantasy is nevertheless ‘executed rationally, meaningfully, and according to plan.’Czerny, A Systematic Introduction, 2; quoted in Schachter, ‘Chopin’s Fantasy’, 260. In other words, it is logical and coherent, even if not following any paradigmatic patterns. Numerous commentators since Czerny have found order in these apparently unordered compositions: Edward Laufer, for one, demonstrates Schenkerian coherence in Mozart’s C major and D minor Fantasies, K. 394 and 397, Beethoven’s Fantasy, Op. 77 and Bach’s G minor Organ Fantasy, BWV 542.Edward Laufer, ‘On the fantasy’, Intégral, 2 (1988), 100–133. Scholars like Laufer are not misguided in their endeavours, since some fantasies not only exhibit recognisable structures, but develop them in fascinating ways. To cite a famous example, Schubert’s ‘Wanderer’ Fantasy, D. 760 embeds a four-movement sonata within a continuous, twenty-minute work, based almost entirely around transformations of the opening theme; this plan anticipates Liszt’s Sonata in B minor. Interestingly, evidence suggests that structural backbone may also be consistent with the supposed improvisational genesis of the fantasy genre: Beethoven, for instance, reportedly built many of his extemporisations around a ‘cantus firmus’.Alexander Wheelock Thayer, The Life and Times of Beethoven, rev. and ed. Elliot Forbes (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967), 377; quoted in Michael R. Sitton, ‘Beethoven’s Opus 77 Fantasy: An improvisational document?’, American Music Teacher, 36/6 (1987), 26. However, a sonata-form explication of Chopin’s Op. 49 is still, to my knowledge, entirely without precedent.Besides, Chopin’s obsession with dovetailing phrases makes any kind of segmentation difficult: after the opening march, we wait until bar 206 to hear a cadence which is clearly separated from the start of the next phrase. See Schachter, ‘Chopin’s Fantasy’, 273.

It must be admitted, of course, that the mature Chopin’s sonata-allegro forms differed from those of, say, Beethoven. In the first movements of the Piano Sonatas, Opp. 35 and 58 and the Cello Sonata, Op. 65, the recapitulation is concerned exclusively with the secondary module (Hepokoski and Darcy’s S), the earlier modules having been reheard shortly before in the development.Andrew Davis, ‘Chopin and the Romantic sonata: The first movement of Op. 58’, Music Theory Spectrum, 36/2 (2014), 270. This procedure is taken to extremes in the first-movement development of Op. 35, almost every bar of which contains the leaping dotted figure from the introduction, the breathless primary (P) theme, or both.Charles Rosen, ‘The first movement of Chopin’s sonata in B♭ minor, Op. 35’, 19th-Century Music, 14/1 (1990), 64. Far from being revolutionary, this feature aligns neatly with the so-called Type 2 Sonata paradigm.Hepokoski and Darcy, Elements of Sonata Theory, 364. Yet, as Andrew Davis observes, it has been a perennial source of fascination and consternation to scholars who seek a more traditional recapitulation beginning with P.Davis, ‘Chopin and the Romantic sonata’, 270. Commentators have proffered various explanations for this apparent lacuna, including the anachronistic resumption of a simpler, eighteenth-century rounded binary arrangement (Charles Rosen), Chopin’s over-fondness for ‘fantasy-like’ writing (Zofia Helman) and the insufficiency of the Classical sonata-allegro as a vehicle for Chopin’s lyric genius, less so a measure of it (inter alia, James Huneker).Rosen, ‘The first movement of Chopin’s Sonata in B♭ minor’, 62–3; Zofia Helman, ‘Norm and individuation in Chopin’s sonatas’, tr. Radosław Materka and Maja Trochimczyk, Polish Music Journal, 3/1 (2000), §1 (n. p.), accessed 23 May 2019,; James Huneker, Chopin: The Man and His Music (New York, NY: Scribner, 1900), 263–271. Helman and Huneker are also quoted in Davis, ‘Chopin and the Romantic sonata’, 270. We will explore other features of Chopin’s brand of sonata-allegro as they arise in our analysis of the Fantasy. Without further ado, let us begin.




Introduction and Transition (bars 1–68)It must be noted here that the overlapping of sections in this movement means that the bar at which one section concludes is generally also the bar at which the next begins. For instance, bar 68 is both the end of the transition and the beginning of the piece ‘proper,’ as will be shown.

The Fantasy opens with a funeral march which never returns; I shall call this Theme A (example 1). Broadly speaking, Theme A comprises two main sections, the first (bars 1–20) in F minor and the second (bars 21–36) mostly in F major. A brief codetta, returning to F minor, follows in bars 37–42. There were certainly precedents for opening sections which were not reprised later – see, for instance, the slow introductions to many of Haydn’s symphonic first movements – but what is striking about this section is how little it feels like an introduction.This point is also made in Schachter, ‘Chopin’s Fantasy’, 266.


Example 1. Fryderyk Chopin, Fantasy, Op. 49: Theme A (opening), bars 1–7.All musical examples have been typeset by the author using Sibelius Ultimate software. 


After all, funerals and their accompanying marches are generally associated with finality, rather than curtain-opening. This funeral march is no exception, with the slow tempo di marcia, square common time, measured dotted rhythms and regular phrase lengths all contributing to its steady tread. That said, funereal introductions were not unheard of: the introduction to the first movement of Beethoven’s ‘Pathétique’ Sonata, Op. 13 is a well-known example.A later instance occurs in Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. In any case, Op. 49’s opening march is tonally closed, featuring several authentic cadences in F; each time, the melody settles on the tonic note.Schachter, ‘Chopin’s Fantasy’, 266. At the conclusion of the march, a fragment of the opening motive is repeated pp in the bass, as if petering out.

However, embedded within the march are discreet clues of more action to come. The many dark bass notes connote profundity, while the ff in bar 19 foretells imminent drama. Besides, the march’s tendency to get stuck on A♭-major harmony, first in bars 7–10 and again in bar 19, anticipates the salience of A♭ major in the work more broadly, providing glimpses of hope. Conversely, the rapid swerves back to F minor following both these excursions evoke frustration and inescapable tragedy.Schachter, ‘Chopin’s Fantasy’, 266. Goldberg offers another explanation for the feeling of dramatic potential: a possible allusion to Karol Kurpiński’s song ‘Litwinka’ (‘Song of the Lithuanian Legionaries’, 1831), conceived against the backdrop of the November Uprising and cast in the style of a rousing military march.Also participating in the November Uprising of 1830–1831, an armed Polish revolt against imperial Russia, were troops from Lithuania, which before the Partitions formed part of the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania. The resemblance is especially striking in the second section of the Fantasy introduction, even if the character here is more akin to reminiscence than triumph (Example 2).Goldberg, ‘“Remembering that tale of grief”’, 76–8. As will be shown, this oblique reference to Polish military bravery foreshadows the considerable heroics later in the piece, where the march topos not only returns but plays a significant role in shaping our sense of the form.



Example 2(a). Karol Kurpiński, ‘Litwinka’, bars 18–21 (vocal melody only).



Example 2(b). Fryderyk Chopin, Fantasy, Op. 49, beginning of second section of the introduction, bars 21–24.


Bar 43 provides the expected tonic close to the funeral march. However, the rippling triplet figure which now emerges, hereafter designated as Theme B (Example 3), banishes any feeling of a conclusion. True to our expectations of a fantasy, Theme B has a distinctly improvisatory feel, based as it is on pianistically gratifying chordal arpeggiations sequenced up through the keys; the frequent fermatas are redolent of an improviser pausing to plan their next move. Improvised preludes featuring similar devices were often played to introduce written-down works at Chopin’s time, so we could plausibly hear this quasi-extempore passage as promising a larger musical structure to come.The practice of extemporised preluding in the nineteenth century is discussed in Valerie Goertzen, ‘By way of introduction: Preluding by 18th- and early 19th-century pianists’, The Journal of Musicology, 14/3 (1996), 299–337. At any rate, arpeggio figuration was standard fare at the start of paradigmatic fantasies for keyboard instruments, such as Mozart’s Fantasy in D minor, K. 397 (Example 4).Schachter, ‘Chopin’s Fantasy’, 261. The gang-like sense of Theme B is reinforced by the poco a poco doppio movimento marking: purely in terms of tempo, the purpose of bars 43–68 is to get us to double speed.



Example 3. Fryderyk Chopin, Fantasy, Op. 49, Theme B (opening), bars 43–46.



Example 4. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Fantasy in D minor, K. 397, bars 1–4.


However, if the funeral march serves as a slow introduction to a (mostly) faster movement, and we do not reach the ultimate, doppio tempo until bar 68, where does the quasi-preluding Theme B fit in? The issue is complicated by the double bar line at the end of bar 42, which would typically delineate a sectional break; this may admittedly be a matter of formatting, accompanying the change from common time to cut. My suggestion is that Theme B serves as a transitional passage, leading seamlessly from the introduction into the ‘main movement’.Schachter also comes to this conclusion. See Schachter, ‘Chopin’s Fantasy’, 261. Lead-ins of just this nature sometimes featured in Classical first movements, such as the opening movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 (Example 5). In this movement, the last three bars of the introduction anticipate the rocket-like scalic runs at the start of the Allegro vivace.Another example of this procedure appears in Beethoven’s ‘Egmont’ Overture.




Example 5. Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 4, movt I, bars 34–48.



Exposition (bars 68–143)

If Theme A functions as an introduction and Theme B a transition, the music commencing at bar 68 ought to mark the opening of the piece proper. I will henceforth refer to this music as Theme C (Example 6). Presumably, Theme C must also serve as the primary theme (or at least an important one), but this is problematised in several ways. Far from delineating a clear beginning, Theme C is launched in medias res: off the beat, on an unstable V6 chord, and immediately initiating a sequence. Further, the accompaniment figuration merely continues the triplet figuration that has prevailed since bar 43. Theme C quickly circles back to the dominant of F minor at bar 73, but four bars later, we have pivoted by common tone into a new melody in A♭ major; I shall call this Theme D (Example 7). At this point, a listener steeped in the Classical tradition may think he is hearing the contrasting S theme of a sonata-allegro, Theme C having served as P. However, taking Theme D as S would leave no time for the usual transition zone (TR) between the main expositional modules.There are, however, instances where P and S abut without TR, in a maximally contrasted exposition space. See, for example, the Overture to Wagner’s The Flying DutchmanBesides, A♭ major is abandoned at bar 85, not returning clearly until bar 276.We could, of course, revise our earlier assessment and see Theme B as P, but that would not account for the preluding quality of this music as convincingly as would a transitional role. In the absence of a satisfactory solution, let us put sonata form to one side for now, and return to it later.


Example 6. Fryderyk Chopin, Fantasy, Op. 49, end of Theme B and beginning of Theme C, bars 68–72.


Example 7. Fryderyk Chopin, Fantasy, Op. 49, end of Theme C and beginning of Theme D, bars 77–80.


The music that follows introduces us to a striking diversity of themes. From bar 85 onwards, we hear swirling diminished seventh arpeggios in triplet figuration, eventually reaching the dominant of C minor in bar 92; despite the lack of memorable melodic content, I shall call this modulatory passage Theme E. At bar 93, there follows a new theme in C minor (hereafter known as Theme F), comprising a sustained, impassioned melody answered by slurred pairs of quavers. However, the first four bars of Theme F are quickly sequenced up to E♭ major, which bursts in ‘as if to overthrow the C minor’ (Example 8).Schachter, ‘Chopin’s Fantasy’, 278. Indeed, E♭ seems to have assumed the role of governing tonal centre: it is the key from which the sequences beginning in bar 101 set off, and the key to which they return decisively eight bars later. Next, the music commencing in bar 109, to which I shall refer as Theme G, juxtaposes vigorous ascending lines in octaves with cadential responses in full chords. It cleverly combines elements of the material heard already: the brisk quavers of Themes D and F, the syncopation of Theme C and the dotted rhythms of Theme A. Theme G builds to a perfect authentic cadence (PAC) in bars 126–127. Remaining in E♭, the music thereafter (Theme H, beginning at bar 127) has a feeling of accomplishment, invoking an upbeat march as opposed to a deathly one. Themes F, G and H are shown in Example 9.


Example 8. Fryderyk Chopin, Fantasy, Op. 49, Theme E (opening), bars 85–88.



Example 9. Fryderyk Chopin, Fantasy, Op. 49, Themes F, G and H, bars 93–134.


With more of the piece now under our belt, let us return to sonata form. We have established that a move from F minor through A♭ major and (briefly) C minor to E♭ major has taken place, and that fresh material appears in conjunction with each new key. We have also established that a long-awaited PAC confirms the tonal destination, E♭ major, in bars 126–127, followed by a brief ‘victory lap’ passage in this key. Except for the fact that there are four tonal areas involved instead of two, this description neatly fits our idea of a sonata exposition.The concept of a sonata exposition involving more than two keys has interested scholars for years. See, for example, Graham Hunt, ‘When structure and design collide: The three-key exposition revisited’, Music Theory Spectrum, 36/2 (2014), 247–268. But where do we find the various expositional modules? Being the opening theme of the ‘main’ movement, we presume that Theme C must double as P, or at least part of it. At the other end of the exposition, it should not trouble us to view the PAC in bars 126–127 as what Hepokoski and Darcy call the moment of essential expositional closure (EEC): the cadence in the secondary key to which the entire exposition has been leading. The ensuing Theme H in E♭ major would then correspond with the closing module (C).Not to be confused with Theme C. Working backwards, we deduce that the preceding Theme G, also in E♭, belongs to S. Further, the modulatory Theme E, occurring between P and S and bringing increased momentum, is a plausible candidate for TR. Our parsing of the sonata exposition now stands as follows (Table 1):


Table 1. Sonata-form expositional modules identified so far.

Theme C D E F G H
Key f A♭ modulating C–E♭ E♭ E♭
Sonata-Form Module P ? TR ? S C


While Themes C, E, G and H align neatly with particular sonata exposition modules – appearing, happily, in just the order we would expect – we have yet to account for Themes D and F within a sonata framework. We could see Theme D as either the beginning of TR or the latter part of an unorthodox bipartite P. I favour the latter, as having at least part of P in A♭ preserves the sonata exposition’s usual P–S trajectory from I–V, here moving towards E♭. Besides, Theme C unfolds into Theme D over similar accompaniment figuration, blurring the boundary between the two themes. The exposition thus ‘comes into being’, as the end of the introduction and the beginning of P effect a smooth transition: from F minor and slow to A♭ major and fast.

It is well to remember that even in works titled ‘Sonata’, Chopin did not baulk at introducing a range of contrasting ideas before the S module in his sonata-form movements. To cite one example, the first movement of the late Cello Sonata, Op. 65 features a dotted theme in G minor, interpolated with virtuosic passagework in the piano (bars 1–20); a moment of tenderer music in A♭ major (bars 21–23); an urgent melody in G minor (bars 24–35); a more overt version of the urgent theme in C minor, with a dramatic cello countermelody (bars 36–42); and heavily modified recollections of the opening, dotted tune (bars 43–60) – all before the second subject begins in bar 61. Admittedly, we cannot say that all these themes belong to the P module: for this listener, TR begins in bar 24. Nevertheless, the point stands: hearing multiple pre-S themes in the Fantasy is corroborated by similar observations elsewhere in Chopin’s oeuvre.

But what of the Fantasy’s Theme F? It is clearly not part of P, nor does it seem to be a continuation of TR. The beginning of Theme F corresponds with fresh melodic material, additionally providing the satisfying resolution of an authentic cadence in C minor. Furthermore, the preceding music is neatly rounded off by the arpeggio tumble to G2 in bar 92 and intervening quaver-rest breath, suggestive of a medial caesura (MC) before the secondary module.Admittedly, a descending arpeggio like that in bar 92 also occurs in bar 88, outlining F rather than G major harmony. Could Theme F then form an early part of S? We know that the S module ought to begin at a point before the EEC at which we hear new material in the goal key, in this case E♭ major. E♭ arrives suddenly in bar 97 and, as outlined above, governs the music from here until the end of the exposition. However, bar 97 falls in the middle of Theme F, partway through a sequence; we must look to the beginning of Theme F, or alternatively the beginning of Theme G, for motivic material which truly contrasts with what has gone before. As such, the respective arrivals of the new key and new material are dislocated. Staggered appearances of section markers are not uncommon in ‘sonata deformation’ works: James Hepokoski makes a similar observation about the indicators of the Scherzo in Sibelius’s (admittedly much later) Symphony No. 5.James Hepokoski, Sibelius, Symphony No. 5 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 67–88. Nevertheless, we have still not answered the Theme F question.

My solution is simple. If P included two contrasting themes in two different (though related) keys, why should S not do the same? More specifically, I propose that we view Theme F as the first part of S, viz., S1, and Theme G as the second part, or S2; the possibility of a secondary module encompassing multiple themes is, after all, accounted for in Sonata Theory.Hepokoski and Darcy note that ‘producing the EEC is the generically assigned task of the S-idea(s)’ (my italics), and generally refer to an S ‘space’ or ‘zone’ rather than a single melody. See Hepokoski and Darcy, Elements of Sonata Theory, 18. Including C minor and E♭ major music in S would preserve, transposed up a fifth, the tonal coupling of F minor and its relative major, A♭, which we encountered in the P module (Themes C and D respectively). The sonata exposition would then feature two tonic to dominant trajectories: the first moving from F minor to C minor (Theme C, beginning of Theme F), and the second moving from A♭ major to E♭ major (Theme D, Theme F from bar 97 onwards, Themes G and H). The beginning of the work foregrounds the first trajectory, as F minor, being the key of Themes A, B and C, is initially more salient than A♭ major. However, from S onwards, the second trajectory is by far the more prominent, since C minor lasts a mere four bars while E♭ major is afforded, literally and figuratively, all the fanfare we expect of the exposition’s tonal goal. In this way, the Fantasy’s overarching double-key scheme, beginning in F minor and ending in A♭ major, is reflected not only in the frequent hints of A♭ in the F minor introduction, but also in the tonal arrangement of both the primary and secondary modules. As will be shown, this trajectory is transposed such that it finishes on the home key in the sonata recapitulation.

The Fantasy thus embodies the idea of tonal pairing. This concept was pioneered in Robert Bailey’s analysis of the Tristan Prelude, and it has since been taken up by authors including Christopher Lewis (focussing on Mahler’s Ninth Symphony) and Peter H. Smith (looking at works of ‘conservative’ Romantics such as Brahms and Schubert).Robert Bailey, ‘An analytical study of the sketches and drafts’, in Richard Wagner: Prelude and Transfiguration from ‘Tristan and Isolde’, ed. Robert Bailey (New York, NY: Norton, 1985), 113–46; Christopher Lewis, Tonal Coherence in Mahler’s Ninth Symphony (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1984), passim; Peter H. Smith, ‘Tonal pairing and monotonality in instrumental forms of Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and Brahms’, Music Theory Spectrum, 35/1 (2013), 77–101. See also William Kinderman and Harald Krebs (eds), The Second Practice of Nineteenth-Century Tonality (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1996), passimSmith defines tonal pairing as ‘the tendency […] to organize extended passages around an interaction between two (usually third-related) tonal centres, as an alternative to the unitary tonal hierarchy of the eighteenth century.’Smith, ‘Tonal pairing and monotonality’, 77. Tellingly, he also notes that ‘tonal pairing has most often been associated with “progressive” nineteenth-century repertoires – Wagner’s music dramas, to be sure, but also Chopin’s piano works beginning and ending in different keys’.Ibid., 77. I will discuss other such works by Chopin later in the essay, after Table 2. Admittedly, Smith advocates a ‘conceptual separation of tonal pairing on the one hand, from […] directional tonality on the other’; see ibid., 79. Besides, ‘juxtaposition of musical fragments implying the two tonics in succession’, as occurs in the Fantasy’s introduction and Theme F, is one of Christopher Lewis’s five standard categories of tonal pairing.Lewis, Tonal Coherence, 6. Lewis’s categories of tonal pairing are quoted in full in Smith, ‘Tonal pairing and monotonality’, 79. Granted, in the Fantasy, one key is almost always weighted over the other, as discussed above. But such discrepancies are covered by the theory of nineteenth-century tonal pairing, which deals almost exclusively with works in which one tonic ultimately has more potency than the other. For instance, one of Smith’s case studies is Beethoven’s ‘Appassionata’ Sonata, which clearly prioritises F minor despite its preoccupation with D♭ major (VI).Smith, ‘Tonal pairing and monotonality’, 80–84. At any rate, we have now accounted for all the themes in the Fantasy thus far. Of course, this solution has its imperfections: Theme C’s gang-like quality is more intuitively consistent with a TR zone than P, and bipartite P and S modules, each containing music in two different keys, are hardly the norm. Nevertheless, a sonataform interpretation is bolstered by the relatively exact reprise and the development-like, modulatory music preceding it. This will be clarified in the analysis that follows.

Incidentally, it is instructive to track the progress of march music up to and including Theme H. The work begins with a funeral march, which is supplanted by swirling triplets in bars 43–100. When the triplets are finally suspended, the regular pairs of quavers and oom-pah bass line in bars 101–108 hint at a march style, although the turbulent harmonic context eschews, for now, the balance and tonal clarity of the opening funeral march. Yet the harmony is simplified to a more march-like I–V–I–V from bar 109 (Theme G), as we move to an up-tempo version of the dotted rhythms heard in the funeral march. The rapid ascending octaves here do not disturb the regular, march-like rhythm as the earlier triplets did, even if such bravura seems out of place within such a straight-laced topos.I am obviously excluding virtuosic march transcriptions such as the Mendelssohn–Liszt– Horowitz ‘Wedding March’. Next, from bar 116 (see Example 9), the bipartite Theme G is split up into its component parts: the syncopated, dotted figure in bars 116–119, and the quavers, now appearing as heraldic, fanfare-like repeated chords more associable with a march, in bars 119–123. After glorious sustained chords in bars 123–126, we reach a PAC and an E♭ major section which is indisputably cast as a triumphant march. As such, while the initial march of death never returns, the march topic has gradually permeated the sonata exposition, ultimately trumping more fluid, improvisando material.As will be shown, the same occurs in the recapitulation; this is clearly why James Parakilas dubs Op. 49 ‘a fantasy on the march topic’. See James Parakilas, ‘The barcarolle and the Barcarolle: Topic and genre in Chopin’, in Jonathan Bellman and Halina Goldberg (eds), Chopin and His World (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017), 246. Besides the obvious connection to the introduction and Kurpiński’s ‘Litwinka’, this underlays the exposition’s tonal journey, culminating in the EEC and closing module in which both the march and E♭ major are not only confirmed but celebrated.


Development (bars 143–235)

Bar 143 brings what I shall call B’: triplet figuration with contour derived from B, but without the earlier theme’s frequent pauses (Example 10). Given we have just left what seems to be a sonata exposition, we assume that we have entered a development space; the ensuing reworking of familiar material through different keys confirms that our assumption is correct. The music lands on A♭ (qua dominant of D♭), before moving by semitone to Theme C, beginning on the dominant of C minor in bar 155. This time, Theme C rises sequentially to V of E♭ minor before Theme D appears in G♭ major from bar 164. As such, the Theme C–Theme D pairing, which previously traversed the ‘home’ minor third (f–A♭), now moves across a diminished fifth. Next, the modulating Theme E enters in bar 172, ultimately settling on E♭ major harmony in bars 178–179. Theme B ensues from bar 180. Here, then, is evidence of cyclic form and a second rotation beginning in bar 143: having first heard the ordering A–B–C–D–E–F–G–H complete in bars 1–142 (Rotation 1, or Kallberg’s ‘principal thematic group’),Kallberg, ‘Chopin’s last style’, 274. we have now encountered B’–C–D–E in bars 143–179. Admittedly, Rotation 2 is considerably curtailed with respect to the first, even if we acknowledge that A, occurring only once, is hardly a regular fixture of the rotation. Nevertheless, the sequential order of themes is retained.


Example 10. Fryderyk Chopin, Fantasy, Op. 49, Theme B’, bars 143–147.


From bar 180, we hear Theme B, moving from E♭ major via E♭ minor to G♭ major; in cyclic terms, we presume we have embarked on a third rotation. But the music beginning in bar 199 throws a spanner in the works. Here, the tempo relaxes to Lento sostenuto, cut time gives way to a flowing 3/4, and a pious-sounding chorale in B major (enharmonically ♭III in A♭) enters as if to calm the waters (Example 11). A peaceful B major middle section invoking the chorale topos would also appear in Chopin’s later Polonaise-Fantasy, Op. 61, another work with A♭ major as tonic (Example 12). With its different metre, tempo, texture and character, not to mention remote key, everything about the Fantasy’s chorale seems calculated to make us feel as far as possible from home. The telos which mounted to an almost unbearable degree in the exposition has been suspended altogether. In fact, given this section never returns later in the piece (excepting a brief reminiscence in bars 320–321), it may be tempting to view the Fantasy as a simple ternary structure, the chorale serving as the contrasting B section. However, the Lento sostenuto also supports the psychological trajectory of sonata form insofar as it maximises our feeling of distance from the exposition while maintaining subtle links to music we have heard before (chorale-like textures also appeared in the introduction).In any case, the exposition–development–recapitulation layout of sonata form is a kind of ternary structure. Besides, self-contained episodes were not uncommon in Romantic sonata developments: another, equally beautiful instance appears in the first-movement development of Brahms’s Piano Sonata, Op. 5.



Example 11. Fryderyk Chopin, Fantasy, Op. 49, chorale (opening), bars 199–206.



Example 12. Fryderyk Chopin, Polonaise-Fantasy, Op. 61, bars 148–152.


At any rate, we return in bar 223 to tempo primo and the turbulent triplets I call B’, outlining diminished seventh harmonies. As if rectifying the diversion effected by the chorale, B’ lands once again on G♭, guiding us chromatically to the dominant of B♭ minor in bar 234. Yet this portion of the Fantasy raises some important questions. Have we embarked on a new rotation in bar 223, or is this a continuation of Rotation 3? Crucially, how will we account for the chorale? Since B and B’ are, in my analysis, different versions of the same music, we can happily ascribe bars 180–234 to Theme B, with the chorale (let us call it Theme X) serving as an interpolation. On this basis, we remain in Rotation 3.


Recapitulation and coda (bars 235–332)

In bar 235, we meet Theme C again, sounding especially dark in B♭ minor; this, as we now know, doubles as the first part of P, or P1. Following the usual rotational order, we then hear Theme D (P2) in D♭ major from bar 244; the modulatory Theme E (TR) from bar 252; and Theme F (S1) from bar 260, beginning in F minor before moving to A♭ major. We can see already that the music from Theme C onwards is virtually an exact transposition of the first rotation up a perfect fifth or down a perfect fourth. This continues with Theme G (S2), which is heard from bar 276 in the Fantasy’s ultimate tonic of A♭; so too is Theme H, the closing module, in bars 294–310. In retrospect, not only have we completed Rotation 3, but we have also experienced a full sonata recapitulation. All the material from the exposition has been reprised, but in textbook sonata style, the secondary and closing modules, originally heard in C minor and E♭ major respectively, now appear in the piece’s home tonics of F minor and (more prominently) A♭ major.Once again, the minor key (here F minor) only applies to the first four bars of Theme F (S1).

The fact that P occurs in the subdominant with respect to Themes C and D in the exposition (b♭ = IV of f; D♭ = IV of A♭) should not deter us. As Hepokoski and Darcy note, ‘subdominant recapitulations’ appear in several well-known Classical sonata-allegro movements, preserving the tonal relationship between P and S.Hepokoski and Darcy, Elements of Sonata Theory, 262–268. An example can be found in the first movement of Mozart’s Sonata facile in C major, K. 545, the recapitulation of which begins in F major (Example 13).Ibid., 264. Another instance of this procedure occurs in the first movement of Schubert’s ‘Trout’ Quintet. Nor, indeed, was Chopin new to recapitulating themes outside the tonic key: the first movement of his E minor Piano Concerto presents S in the parallel major in the exposition, but moves to the relative major for its later reprise.This observation is also made in Davis, ‘Chopin and the Romantic sonata’, 271n. The Cello Sonata first movement could similarly be viewed as recapitulating the C minor theme from the exposition in D minor; however, Davis, like Rosen, would have us see this as the end of the development. In any case, we can identify the PAC in bars 293–294 of the Fantasy as the moment of essential structural closure (ESC), corresponding with the EEC in bars 126–127. The end of Theme H in bar 310 thus marks the conclusion of both the third rotation and the sonata recapitulation.



Example 13. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Sonata, K. 545, movt I, end of development and start of recapitulation (bars 39–45).


As expected, we then move into a coda area, beginning in bar 310 when Theme H gives way surprisingly to B’. Descending chromatic scales in sixths then lead us to a fragment of Theme X in bar 320, transposed to A♭ major but retaining its triple metre and slow tempo. As such, bars 310–321 reprise the B–X pairing we heard at the start of the development, possibly functioning as a tiny fourth rotation.Indeed, the fact that B’ always follows H may tempt us to view it, as Schachter does, as the last element of the rotational sequence; see Graph 1 and Schachter, ‘Chopin’s Fantasy’, 262. This may also be a nod to Classical sonata movements in which the development and recapitulation were repeated. A roughly analogous ‘false repeat’ appears in the first movement of Beethoven’s ‘Pathétique’ Sonata, where a fragment of the Grave introduction, also glimpsed at the beginning of the development, is heard once more in the coda (Example 14). However, Chopin, like Beethoven, swiftly regains the momentum: after a touching recitative and V7–I cadence, a brief Allegro assai, based almost exclusively on A♭ major harmony, brings the Fantasy to a close (Example 15).



Example 14. Ludwig van Beethoven, Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13, movt I, end of recapitulation and beginning of coda, bars 293–301.



Example 15. Fryderyk Chopin, Fantasy, Op. 49, coda (excerpt), bars 319–332.



* * *


The full form as I see it, viewed from both a sonata and a rotational perspective, is laid out in Table 2; for comparison, I have reproduced Schachter’s graph of the form in Graph 1. But let us pause for a moment to discuss one of the primary curiosities of this work: the fact that it starts in F minor but concludes in A♭ major. This is not the only composition of Chopin’s that ends in a different key to that in which it starts: other examples include Scherzo No. 2 and Ballade No. 2. The procedure is known as ‘directional tonality’, and it leaves a range of question marks for the analyst, in particular whether one key is more important than the other.Schachter, ‘Chopin’s Fantasy’, 260–1. Interestingly, Peter Smith advises against conflating directional tonality and tonal pairing; see note 40. Like Schachter, I believe that A♭ is the primary tonic of the Fantasy: excluding the introduction (Theme A) and transition into the main movement (Theme B), only Theme C (P in the exposition) is in F minor for any sustained period. Moreover, the role of A♭ as primary tonic is confirmed by the elaborate coda, including a reminiscence of the slow chorale, and the many glimpses of it beforehand.Schachter, ‘Chopin’s Fantasy’, 263 and 266. Indeed, the standard title ‘Fantasy in F minor’ is arguably employed simply because the piece opens in F minor.Ibid., 261. Nevertheless, the sustained off-tonic beginning is marked to say the least; besides, the tonal pairing in the P and S modules ensures that F minor has prominence as a second home within the sonata layout.


Graph 1. Carl Schachter’s graph of the form.Reproduced from Ibid., 262.


As Graph 1 illustrates, Schachter sees A♭ as not only the principal tonic of the Fantasy, but the aim of its essential telos. Central to his interpretation is ‘the struggle between the two keys [F and A♭], the victory of A♭, [and] the celebration of that victory in a marchlike episode of triumphal character’.Ibid., 287. On this basis, the seeming attempts to reach A♭ in the introduction set in motion the overall trajectory of the work, as discussed earlier in this essay. Schachter views the Fantasy as essentially progressing through three tonal centres: it begins in F minor, reaches E♭ major in bar 109 (viz., S2) and finally completes the journey to A♭ major at bar 276 (S2 in the recapitulation).Ibid., 266–287. Prior to bar 276, A♭ is repeatedly ‘promised’, but not attained.Ibid., 274, employs the metaphor of ‘a vision of the Promised Land’. Adopting a Schenkerian point-of-view, Schachter reduces the F–E♭–A♭ tonal scheme further to a V–I progression in A♭ major, considering F as an upper neighbour note to E♭.Ibid., 265.

Schachter’s analysis is compelling, and I agree wholeheartedly with much of it. But it has two obvious limitations. First, A♭ major does have presence before bar 276, notably in Theme D. Secondly, E♭ major – for Schachter, a mere waypoint en route to A♭ – hosts, transposition notwithstanding, the same ‘victory’ in bar 109 as A♭ does in bar 276, and a ‘march-like episode of triumphal character’ in bars 127–143. Indeed, practically all the music in bars 235–316 is the same as what we heard in bars 68–152, transposed up a perfect fifth or down a perfect fourth (ignoring registral differences). This is where my sonata-form reading comes into its own, because the relationship described above is precisely what we expect to operate between an exposition and its corresponding recapitulation (here extending slightly into the development and coda respectively). Granted, we can also find the themes in bars 68–92 (Themes C, D and E) restated in the same order in bars 155–179 – rotational form accounts for this – but the original key relationships are not retained. This portion of the piece is more intuitively consistent with a rotational development, less predictable tonally than the exposition and recapitulation.

On the topic of rotationality, let us briefly compare the cyclic aspects we have discussed to Schachter’s interpretation (see Table 2 and Graph 1). Schachter agrees with me on the bipartite nature of the march and the bridging function of bars 43–67. He also concurs that there are three main cycles.I exclude the tiny, possible fourth rotation in bars 310–321. I account for almost all sections of the piece in the rotational order, including the opening march, the transitional passages and, as an interpolation within Theme B, the slow chorale. Schachter, however, is more selective, omitting all of these from the basic rotating set: as such, his ‘a’ corresponds to my ‘Theme C’, and so forth. His graph of the form (Graph 1) therefore includes many more exocyclic sections than mine. Further, I see the music Schachter refers to as ‘h’ as another, modified version of Theme B (B’), since its melodic shape and rhythmic content are derived directly from B (without the frequent, quasi-improvisatory pauses). Admittedly, many of these differences are semantic; in truth, the spirit of Schachter’s graph is not far from my own.


Table 2. My analysis of the form of Chopin’s Fantasy, Op. 49.




It goes without saying that a piece such as Chopin’s Op. 49 Fantasy is too complex to fit neatly into a single paradigmatic form. While axiomatic, this fact motivated my attempts to parse the work in the first place; with the analysis now completed, it is once again the conclusion that emerges beyond any other. In this article, we have seen how the Fantasy exhibits a stylised sonata form with double-tonic P and S modules, operating in conjunction with the more intuitively obvious rotational form. As such, we have investigated how tonal, thematic, topical and emotional conventions relevant to both sonata and cyclic forms are manipulated in a singular work which nevertheless retains the rhapsodic surprises expected of a fantasy. Following the lead of Halina Goldberg, future analyses of this piece might explore programmatic exegeses and how these may shape our understanding of the form. Consulting pianists to gain performers’ perspectives on the piece’s structure and narrative sense – and interpretive ramifications of the same – may be another fruitful angle of enquiry. At any rate, we must remember that Chopin intended this work as a piece of music to be enjoyed, not an analytical crossword to be solved. Indeed, perhaps the most potent testament to Chopin’s genius is how he can push structural and other boundaries so daringly while never italicising anything but ravishing keyboard colours and timeless emotional communication. 


One of Australia’s most exciting young musicians and musical thinkers. Trained as a Classical pianist and cellist, Nicholas completed his undergraduate studies as a scholarship student at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, graduating with First Class Honours and the University Medal. He also holds a Master of Music with Distinction from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London, where he won the Rose Lawrence Award for writing on music. Nicholas’s research focusses on piano music of the nineteenth century, and his work has previously been published in the Sydney Undergraduate Journal of Musicology. He is currently a candidate for the Doctor of Musical Arts at the Sydney Conservatorium, with a thesis exploring narrative readings of late Beethoven. His debut recording, featuring the last three Beethoven Piano Sonatas, is due for release on the Orpheus Classical label in 2021.