Published : 2023-04-27

A Fantasy about Sonata Form: Re-Examining Chopin’s Fantasy, Op. 49

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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Citation rules

Kennedy, N. (2023). A Fantasy about Sonata Form: Re-Examining Chopin’s Fantasy, Op. 49. Chopin Review, (3), 88–111.

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