The nocturne is generally credited to John Field, an Irish composer and pianist, who published his first three nocturnes in 1814. These romantic character pieces are written in a somewhat melancholy style, with an expressive, dreamy melody over broken-chord accompaniment. The majority of Chopin’s nocturnes adopt a simple A-B-A form. The A part is usually in a dreamy bel canto
style, whereas the B part is of a more dramatic content. In distinction of melody, wealth of harmony and originality of piano style, Chopin’s nocturnes leave Field’s far behind. Today, these are often taught when people learn piano
. The similarity of Chopin’s nocturnes to Bellini’s cavatinas (such as Casta diva
from Norma) has often been noticed, though there is little evidence of direct influence in either direction.
We have seen the shy, serenely tender emotions which Field charged them to interpret, supplanted by strange and foreign effects. Only one genius possessed himself of this style, lending to it all the movement and ardour of which it was susceptible. Chopin, in his poetic Nocturnes, sang not only the harmonies which are the source of our most ineffable delights, but likewise the restless, agitating bewilderment to which they often give rise.
- Franz Liszt
Nocturne in B-flat Minor, Op. 9 No. 1 — Larghetto
The first of Chopin’s works to be published in France, Germany and England were these nocturnes (Op. 9), which appeared over the period of December 1832 to June 1833. They were composed—in part—in Vienna and completed in Paris. This first work immediately confirms the character of the nocturne. The irregularity of the rhythmic patterns is one aspect of Chopin’s style of ornamentation that continues to find varied expression in later works such as Op. 27 No. 2. This piece was composed in 1830/1832 and published in 1832/1833; it is dedicated to Marie Pleyel, the wife of publisher and virtuoso pianist Camille Pleyel.
Nocturne in E-flat Major, Op. 9 No. 2 — Andante
This nocturne resembles the style of Field’s Nocturne No. 9
in the same key. The left hand figuration is similar, and both have cadenza-like passages toward the end. This is Chopin’s most famous nocturnes. It was composed in 1830/1832 and published in 1833; it is also dedicated to Marie Pleyel.
Nocturne in B Major, Op. 9 No. 3 — Allegretto
This nocturne is obscure and rarely performed. It is an exercise in lyricism and delicacy. Its development is paradoxical in its torrential gracefulness. It was composed in 1830/1832 and published in 1833; it is also dedicated to Marie Pleyel, a lovely pianist of the period.
Nocturne in F Major, Op. 15 No. 1 — Andante Cantabile
The introduction of this night piece is calm and serene. This peace is followed by a stormy F minor central section, which purges sudden doubts and worries. A recapitulation follows, appeasing the anxiety and restoring the tranquility. It was composed in 1830/31 and published in 1833/34; it is dedicated to Ferdinand Hiller, a German composer, conductor and music director.
Nocturne in F-sharp Major, Op. 15 No. 2 — Larghetto
Although this Nocturne is fairly popular, this song is not so well known as the very famous nocturne in E-flat major. It has many more technical difficulties and requires more technique and a greater range of dynamics. Arthur Hedley said this nocturne was composed in 1832, after Chopin’s arrival in Paris. It was composed in 1830/31 and published in 1833/34; it is also dedicated to Ferdinand Hiller.
Nocturne in G Minor, Op. 15 No. 3 — Lento
In this Nocturne it is the irregularity and unpredictability of the phrasing that demands attention. It is wistful in its outer sections, with a hymn-like passage at its heart, marked religioso
. To enhance the purity of this passage, Chopin deliberately refrained from using the sustaining pedal. The expected return to the opening, however, is replaced by a new idea, also somewhat modal in character. This seems to approach a cadence in D minor, but the concluding chords bring the music back to G, with an archaic 4-3 suspension and Picardy 3rd.
It is doubtful whether any consistent example of such harmony can be found of earlier date unless the third movement, “in the Lydian mode”, of Beethoven’s string quartet (Op. 132) is included.
A story goes that Chopin, upon seeing Hamlet
, composed this nocturne and named it, On the Graveyard
. After being asked later the reason for which he did not publish this title, Chopin answered: “Let them guess...”. This work was composed in 1833 and published in 1833/34; it is dedicated to Ferdinand Hiller.
Nocturne in C-sharp Minor, Op. 27 No. 1 — Larghetto
This nocturne was composed in 1834/35 and published in 1836; it is dedicated to Countess d’Apponyi. It is also known as: “Les plaintives”. It is clouded in a dark atmosphere, full of suspense and inner tension. The middle part is leading into a more triumphant mood, as the chordal section expands a moment of temporary glory. Niecks, an important Chopin biographer, considers these nocturnes (Op. 27) the best.
Nocturne in D-flat Major, Op. 27 No. 2 — Lento sostenuto
This Nocturne begins with a serene melody of hypnotic beauty, floating over a sea of D-flat major harmony. Its development heightens the sense of drama, and the piece closes in waves of melting nostalgia. It is indeed supreme in its class of Parisian salon pieces, if not more. It was composed in 1834/35 and published in 1836; it is dedicated to Countess d’Apponyi.
Nocturne in B Major, Op. 32 No. 1 — Andantino sostenuto
Artur Rubinstein had always ended this nocturne in major: “In the Debussy edition of Chopin, which I like, the B major nocturne ends with a major chord. In Chopin one shouldn’t discuss such things. Chopin changed his works constantly. [...] I play the major chord because the minor chord weakens the ending: it weakens the whole theme.” Chopin composed this work in 1836/37 and published it in 1837; it is dedicated to Madame la Baronne de Billing.
Nocturne in A-flat Major, Op. 32 No. 2 — Lento
Compared with previous nocturnes, the tempo in the middle section remains the same and only the figuration changes. The degree in contrast is thereby reduced. It is a beautiful work of dreamy melody and majestic harmony. This nocturne was composed in 1836/37 and published in 1837; it is dedicated to Madame la Baronne de Billing.
Nocturne in G Minor, Op. 37 No. 1 — Andante sostenuto
Also known as Les soupirs
, this nocturne is not technically demanding. The middle section is a strange chorale-like intermezzo in plain chordal writing. It was composed in 1838/39 and published in 1840.
Nocturne in G Major, Op. 37 No. 2 — Andantino
The elegant theme, in parallel thirds and sexts, is presented in a surprising variety of keys, so that little sense of overall tonality remains. The middle section is a peaceful lullaby. It was composed just a few weeks after arriving at Nohant, in July of 1939. It was published in 1840.
Guiomar Novaes said: “I find in those nocturnes that you emphasize reflection, nostalgia, serenity, and a certain deep feeling.”
Nocturne in C Minor, Op. 48 No. 1 — Lento
This one reaches beyond the accepted domain of the nocturne: its virtuoso piano writing is reminiscent of the ballades. Robert Schumann reviewed both nocturnes of opus 48, but his admiration was tinged with certain reservations. This piece was composed in October 1841 and published in 1841/42; it is dedicated to Laura Duperre.
Nocturne in F-sharp Minor, Op. 48 No. 2 — Andantino
A seemingly endless melody is played with restless triplets in the left hand.
It was composed in October 1841 and published in 1841/42; it is dedicated to Laura Duperre.
Nocturne in F Minor, Op. 55 No. 1 — Andante
These nocturnes of opus 55 were not greeted by the superlatives that the early nocturnes attracted. Guiomar Novaes: "You play the second notes of the basses a little staccato, letting the pedal up. Rubinstein holds the pedal for each two bass notes." This work was composed in October 1843 and published in 1844; it is dedicated to Jane Stirling, a devoted pupil.
Nocturne in E-flat Major, Op. 55 No. 2 — Lento
This nocturne lies at the apogee of its form. It is an application of the greatest depth, containing a melody of infinite natural quality. Its development and flow are breathtaking. This nocturne was composed in October 1843 and published in 1844; it is dedicated to Jane Stirling, a devoted pupil.
Nocturne in B Major, Op. 62 No. 1 — Andante
A work of elaborate ornamentation and elementary simplicity, this piece suits the definition of charm. It is demanding in terms of both technique and musicality. For Kleczynski the nocturnes of opus 62 were evidence of an enfeebled creative power. Niecks, however, considers these nocturnes “not worth dwelling upon.” It was composed in October 1846 and published in 1846; it is dedicated to Mademoiselle R. de Konneritz.
Nocturne in E Major, Op. 62 No. 2 — Lento
This work was composed in October 1846, and it is the last nocturne that Chopin published during his life (in 1846). He dedicated it to Mademoiselle R. de Konneritz. Leichtentritt described it as “lacking the features of great artistry.”
According to pianist John Silva, Op. 62 Nos. 1/2 are Chopin’s most mature Nocturnes and demand the most of a pianist’s interpretative abilities. The phrasing complexities of the A section of No. 2 are extremely difficult to deliver, but are beautiful if done well. The mesmerizing harmonies at the end of No. 1, and hinted at earlier in the piece, make the entire piece worthwhile. Rubinstein’s mid-1960’s recording of these are excellent examples.
Nocturne in E Minor, Op. 72 No. 1 (posth.) — Andante
This nocturne lies clearly within the Field tradition. Its haunting melody rides the harmony of a most macabre scale. It was composed in 1827 and published in 1855. Chopin dedicated it to Mademoiselle R. de Konneritz.
Nocturne in C-sharp Minor (posth.) — Lento con gran espressione
This nocturne uses themes from the F minor concerto (Op. 21). Tamas Vasary: “If you didn’t know about the reminiscence, you would still have the impression that both works live in the same emotional climate.”
Orazio Frugoni suggested to a student having trouble with this nocturne that she spend some time at night by the cathedral in Siena: “Yes it’s very romantic. As human beings we get these impressions that feed our creativity; if not we simply shouldn’t be artists.”
This work was composed in the spring of 1830 and published in 1875.
Nocturne in C Minor
This nocturne was published in 1938 (TWMP, Warsaw) together with the E-flat minor Largo
(BI109). It was composed in 1837 and published in 1938.
Sheet Music and Recordings
This page was last updated on 15 January 2014