Genres Genres

Fantasy in F minor, Op. 49

Today I finished the Fantasy - and the sky is beautiful, a sadness in my heart - but that's alright. If it were otherwise, perhaps my existence would be worth nothing to anyone. Let's hide until death has passed.

The Fantasy in F minor, Op. 49 is one of the pinnacles of Chopin's creative art. Generally regarded as a masterpiece, it has received a number of brilliant pianistic interpretations (e.g. Claudio Arrau, Myra Hess, Solomon, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Murray Perahia). It is a work that has fascinated successive generations of listeners, commentators and musicologists. Yet its form and artistic message are difficult to "decipher" unequivocally.

The F minor Fantasy is an expansively constructed work belonging to the sphere of such epic-dramatic genres in the Chopin oeuvre as the ballades and the scherzos. Yet it occupies a distinctive, exceptional place among them. Discounting the rather trivial fantasies of the potpourri type written to operatic or other themes, such as were fashionable in Chopin's day, we immediately perceive his F minor Fantasy as a work referring to the most splendid and most ambitious traditions of the piano fantasies of Mozart and the Wanderer-Fantasie of Schubert. From Chopin's letters, we also know that he employed the name "fantasy" to describe works that broke with the canon of unambiguously defined genres (e.g. the Polonaise-fantasy in A flat major, Op. 61). The term "fantasy" unquestionably implies some sort of freedom from artistic rules and a peculiar, Romantic expression.

The Fantasy in F minor was completed and published in 1841. Through its narrative it insistently draws the listener into an expansive musical tale. But can we answer the question as to what this tale is about? In the interpretations of many commentators we find the conviction that Chopin's work might be an echo of improvisations on national themes (as is indicated by some of the Fantasy's melodic strands). So the F minor Fantasy would contain a distinctive patriotic message, leading from the elegiac tone at the beginning of the work to the triumphant accents in its closing climax.

In the construction of this fascinating composition, we find elements of various forms (e.g. sonata form combined with the principle of cyclical form), yet defining the form of the F minor Fantasy is no easy task, even though the work does display a rigorous logic of construction. We find here moments that are very precisely formed (particular themes) and others of a looser character, akin to improvisation (especially the figural passages). In general terms, the flow of the work may be presented as follows: an introduction with two "march" themes, a sort of exposition of the rich thematic material, a middle section (lyrical, at a slow tempo, in the key of B major), a sort of reprise and a coda (a reminiscence of the middle section). Of course, there are other possible interpretations of this work, which represents a real challenge for performers.

Artur Bieleki