Chopin's Poetics of Decline: The 'Largo' Movement from The Cello Sonata In G minor, Op. 65

Aleksandr Rodzianko, Eastman School of Music

The form of the "Largo" movement from Chopin's Cello Sonata, Op. 65, appears to be largely through-composed. Dean Sutcliffe (1999), for instance, suggests the movement to resist any single, overarching structure. And Janet Schmalfedlt (2011) interprets the movement to be a freely extemporised "German dialogue" between Chopin and the music's dedicatee, August Franchomme.

In this paper, I offer an alternative view of the movement: a ternary design, which models a deteriorating - and eventually renewed - compositional sense of selfhood. Paradigmatic analysis explicates the music's melodic profile; prolongational analysis models the tonal structure; and analysis of the invocations of the bel canto nocturne illustrates the music's topical profile. On each of these three levels - the melodic, tonal and topical - musical disruptions and deteriorations predominate, suggesting the possibility that a poetics of decline - perhaps rooted in Chopin's Parisian-based cultural milieu of the 1840s - inspired the movement's genesis.