Abstract

What George Sand characterized as the prevalence of “the unforeseen” in Chopin's music can be understood as his programmatic predilection. Within works whose generic titles promise nothing programmatic, he regularly introduces disruptions that announce a previously unsuspected persona in whose mind the music continues to unfold even as that persona brings the premises of the genre under scrutiny. In the Waltz in A♭, op. 42, for instance, a momentary interruption of the waltz beat, like the terminal interruption of the nocturne texture in the Nocturne in B, op. 32, no. 1, produces an ending that tests the capacity of the genre to absorb what most undermines it. In that Nocturne there is a second personifying tension between the genre-establishing texture of singing lines and the genre-challenging daubs of inconsistent damper-pedal coloring, drawing attention to the hand of the composer at work and therefore—if we adopt the insight of Chopin's artistic interlocutor Eugène Delacroix—to his thinking presence. The Mazurka in C Minor, op. 56, no. 3, represents a reverse strategy. There an imagining mind is personified from the beginning, restlessly searching through a catalog of mazurka features, and it is only in the coda, when the music settles into its genre as dance music, that the persona—the element of the unforeseen—retreats.

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