Type of Resources
The constant presence of mortality in Frédéric Chopin’s life, writings, and music resulted in his obsessive fascination with death, informed both by his individual experiences and cultural milieu. Through topical analysis of the programmatic, texted, and operatic repertoire of the nineteenth century, a body of musical gestures used to depict the varying aspects of mortality can be codified into a single style––the macabre style. This codification allows for a historically informed hearing of the instrumental repertoire of composers such as Chopin. Analyzing Chopin’s works that directly evoke the foundational genres of the style, the funeral march and lament, provides a basis for understanding Chopin’s individual approach. Through such analysis it becomes clear that Chopin was not only well versed in the style, but shaped and transformed it into his own idiom––crafting works of narrative proportion and psychological depth that expanded the macabre in unprecedented ways. Employing this analytical method for Chopin’s Sonata in B-flat minor, Op. 35, reveals a work saturated in the macabre style. By considering the artistic, literary, and musical culture of the nineteenth century and mapping Chopin’s macabre techniques onto each movement of Op. 35, the work can be read as a four-movement contemplation of mortality––a memento mori. Ultimately, defining the macabre style and scrutinizing its deployment allows for a more intimate understanding of Chopin’s compositional strategies, while presenting musical evidence that unequivocally confirms the composer’s lifelong fascination with death and the impact it had on his music.