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“Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Funeral March”,
(Slow movement from Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 35)
(New York: Saalfield, [1882?])

From the library of Vladimir Horowitz
Gilmore Music Library

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Funeral March

  Chopin usually focused his efforts on the smaller genres, such as the mazurka, the prelude, the etude, the nocturne, and the waltz, which he often published in sets. Only occasionally did he turn his attention to larger multi-movement genres such as the concerto and the sonata. The Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35, is a superb but unconventional demonstration of his mastery of large forms. This mastery was not universally acknowledged, however; in an 1841 review, Robert Schumann argued that its four movements did not truly make up a unified whole, saying that Chopin had “tied together four of his most unruly children,” and claiming that its finale, which consists entirely of bare octaves played presto and sotto voce, “is more like mockery than any kind of music.”
Schumann had a point about the unusually disparate qualities of the four movements. In particular, the slow movement, a funeral march, has always had a life of its own. Chopin composed it before the other movements, and as early as 1840 it was being published individually as well as with the sonata as a whole. Chopin was not the first composer to insert a funeral march into a multi-movement piece—Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony is a famous precedent—but Chopin’s march does more than symbolize grief for concert audiences; it has been performed (in a variety of arrangements) at innumerable actual funerals, so its melody is familiar to millions of people who would not be able to name its composer. The American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) is one of the many eminent persons whose last rites were accompanied by this march, and the publisher Saalfield even issued a special edition, entitled “Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Funeral March,” to commemorate the event.
Like the F major Ballade seen elsewhere in this exhibit, our copy of the Funeral March comes from the library of Vladimir Horowitz, one of the greatest exponents of Chopin’s music.