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Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)
Nocturne in G Minor, Op. 37, No. 1
Nocturne in G Major, Op. 37, No. 2
Nocturne in C Minor, Op. 48, No. 1
Nocturne in F Sharp Minor, Op. 48, No. 2
Nocturne in F Minor, Op. 55, No. 1
Nocturne in E Flat Major, Op. 55. No. 2
Nocturne in B Major, Op. 62, No. 1
Nocturne in E Major, Op. 62, No. 2
Nocturne in E Minor, Op. 72, No. 1
The son of a French émigré of relatively humble origin, who
had established himself as a schoolmaster in Warsaw and espoused the cause of
Poland with enthusiasm, Fryderyk Chopin was to make his home and career in Paris,
after early success at home, where he was trained at the Conservatory and gave
a series of public concerts before trying his luck in Vienna. Paris, however,
proved more suitable for his particular talents. As a pianist he excelled in
a peculiar delicacy of nuance, while as a teacher and as a gentleman he proved
acceptable in the elegant salons of the French capital.
For some ten years Chopin enjoyed or occasionally suffered
a relationship with the strong-willed blue-stocking Aurore Dudevant, better
known by her pen-name of George Sand, a woman of a distinctly liberated cast
of mind, who was to find even in her inamorat a source for her own fiction.
Chopin was to die of tuberculosis, from which he had long suffered, at the early
age of 39.
Among forms that Chopin made his own was the Nocturne, at one
time synonymous with the Serenade, but with the Irish pianist John Field and
Chopin, his successor, a lyrical piano piece offering, nominally at least, a
poetic vision of the night. Field wrote eighteen piano pieces with this title
between the years 1814 and 1835 and these introduced a new form of piano music
that was developed not only in the Nocturne but in other separate movements
for piano throughout the century.
Two nocturnes were published in 1840 by Eugene-Theodore Troupenas,
who briefly replaced Schlesinger, whom Chopin now accused of sharp practice
in disposing of one of his German copyrights, giving vent, in private correspondence,
to his rooted anti-semitic suspicions. The G minor Nocturne, Opus 37, No. 1,
encloses a tranquil chordal F flat major section, and is followed by a G major
Nocturne, with a lilting secondary episode.
By 1841 disagreement with Schlesinger had been put aside and
he published a set of two nocturnes, the first in C minor and the second in
F sharp minor, dedicated to Chopin’s pupil Laure Duperré. Opus 48, No. 1, moves
forward to a central C major section of gentler character, increasing in excitement
as the opening material returns. The F sharp minor Nocturne that completes the
set moves into a relatively sombre D flat major section of some harmonic complexity.
Two more nocturnes were published by Schlesinger in 1844, dedicated
to Jane Stirling, a middle-aged Scottish pupil of Chopin whose nuptial ambitions
outweighed her musical talent. It was through her that Chopin travelled in 1848
to London and to Scotland and to an endless round of tedious social visits that
lasted seven months, until he could escape back to Paris again, his health now
much worse. In 1844, however, Chopin was still involved with George Sand, although
their relationship had its difficulties as her two children, Maurice and Solange,
grew up and used him in their own rivalries and jealousies. The F minor Nocturne,
Opus 55, No. 1, allows the opening material to re-appear in more elaborate form
in conclusion. It is followed by a second, the Nocturne in E flat, marked by
its use of a second melodic voice, accompanying the first.
Chopin wrote his last two nocturnes in 1846 and they were published
in the same year by Brandus, who had bought Maurice Schlesinger’s business and
was later to acquire Troupenas. They were dedicated to another of the composer’s
piano pupils, Mlle. de Könneritz. Opus 62, No. 1, in B major, is introduced
by two chords, the first suggesting another tonality. There is an A flat major
central section and an elaborated return of the material of the opening section.
The final work, the Nocturne in E major, has a secondary episode with a more
energetic accompanying figure. The two nocturnes were written in the autumn
of 1846 at Nohant, which Chopin only left in November to return alone to Paris,
giving rise to rumours about a quarrel with George Sand, with whom he quarrelled
definitively the following year, after her daughter’s marriage.
Chopin became a student at the Warsaw Conservatory, a relatively
new institution, in 1826, committing himself to a continuation of his studies
in harmony, counterpoint and theory, but in fact largely going his own way,
under the supervision of the head of the institution, Josef Eisner, with whom
he had already studied for some years. His second year brought a variety of
compositions, waltzes, a polonaise, a mazurka and the first of his nocturnes,
the Nocturne in E minor, published only posthumously, in 1855, as Opus 72, No.
1. It is a work of relative maturity, marked by its translucent texture.
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CHOPIN: Nocturnes, Vol. 2