Recorded on 06/23/2006, uploaded on 09/01/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Invented by the Irish composer John Field, it was nonetheless Frédéric Chopin that greatly popularized the nocturne—a short one-movement composition for the piano evocative of the ethereal visions of nighttime. His opus 9, published in 1833 and dedicated to Madame Camille Pleyel, consisted of three nocturnes composed between 1830 and 1832. With the exception of a solitary Nocturne in E minor, composed in 1827, but not published until after the composer’s death, the opus 9 nocturnes represent Chopin’s first foray into the genre pioneered by Field.
The Nocturne in B-flat minor, first of the set, begins with a delicate but supple melody over a gently rocking accompaniment. This dream-like section, and its reprisal at the end of the piece, frames a tender central episode in D-flat major. Beginning with a touch of solemnity, the melody of the episode acquires a unique beauty in its persistent sidestep into the key of D major and equally agile return to D-flat. A new, but related, melodic idea over an austere accompaniment of fifths precedes the return of the opening B-flat minor melody.
Undeniably among Chopin’s most popular compositions, the middle nocturne, in E-flat major, is the shortest and most closely related to the simpler nocturnes of John Field. Its vocalise melody, though in the major key, is tinged with moments of melancholy, around which the entire nocturne revolves. Stated simply at first, it is varied with florid ornamentation upon each restatement. No true episode ever coalesces—merely a gently descending passage in the dominant key connecting the successive statements of the melody. A brief cadenza and tranquil tonic chords close the nocturne.
Though overshadowed by its companion, the third nocturne of the set, in B major, rightly deserves its place among Chopin’s finest works. Imbued with a waltz-like charm, the opening melody gracefully unfolds before the listener. The tranquil scene of the opening section is contrasted by the dramatic and agitated middle section. Changing to the key of the tonic minor, the episode adopts a duple meter. Yet, the triplets of the previous 6/8 persist through creating tension with the duple rhythms of the melody. An abridged reprise of the opening section rounds out the nocturne’s ternary design and is followed by a brief cadenza. Finally, arpeggios moving in contrary motion to each other bring the piece to a gentle and serene close. Joseph DuBose
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