“Today I finished the Fantasy – and the sky is beautiful, there’s a sadness in my heart – but that’s alright. If it were otherwise, perhaps my existence would be worth nothing to anyone”. (letter to J Fontana, October 1841).
Chopin composed his F minor fantasy op 49 in 1841. In the same summer of 1841 Chopin also completed the Prelude op.45, the Nocturnes op.48 and the Ab Ballade op.47. Chopin said of his fantasy and ballade “I cannot give them enough polish”.
A fantasia is “a term adopted in the Renaissance for an instrument composition whose form and invention spring solely from the fantasy and the skill of the author who created it. From the 16th century to the 19th the fantasia tended to retain this subjective licence, and its formal and stylistic characteristics may consequently vary widely from free, improvisatory types to strictly contrapuntal and more or less standard sectional forms” (Grove music online).
The work begins with two marches. The first is in the key of F minor, a relatively mournful key. Many perceive this to be a tribute to the friends Chopin lost in the Russian invasion of Poland 10 years earlier, in 1931. The second march is in the more hopeful key of F major.
The main body of the work is made up of three phases. The first phase presents the 5 main themes. The first theme is in the dark key of F minor and emerges from the lower register of the keyboard. The second theme is in Ab major (possibly the most memorable of the 5 themes and later repeated in Gb and Db respectively). The third theme is in the key of C minor and contains quite passionate and agitated octaves. The fourth theme builds to a heroic climax, again with majestic octaves. The fifth theme is another march, military rather than funeral-like.
The second phase contains just the first two themes followed by a connecting passage into the inner slow chorale in B major. This section is marked “lento sostenuto” and contains a metre change to ¾ time. This poignant and hymne-like passage provides fitting respite to the more turbulent sections which both precede and follow.
The third phase again contains the 5 themes and leads into coda. Here we hear a passionate re-quote of the inner chorale them, before the characteristic arpeggiated triplets of the work bring the piece to its final conclusion, a proud cadence in Ab major.