The nocturnes of Chopin are at the root of the romantic repertoire. This genre ‘nocturne’ (meaning: Song of the night) was fairly commonplace in early nineteenth-century piano music.
Chopin wrote 21 nocturnes in all over many years, publishing them in sets of two or three at a time. Thus, there is no overarching design or dramatic shape to the collection as a whole. Each is a fairly short episodic piece evoking the beauty of nighttime, and showcasing his gift for melody.
Chopin was directly influenced in the composition of these works by the Irish composer John Field, who had invented the nocturne as a genre of piano piece–long, lyrical lines in contrasting sections, over a strumming or harp -like accompaniment pattern- and it was Chopin who eventually elevated the genre to a new level of artistic sophistication and expressive potential.
Nocturnes chopin are characterized for the most part by placid melodies and soft, smooth and continuous accompaniment. Most of them are not technically hard, but all are musically challenging. All of which need to be navigated within the spirit of something which is quietly reflective and suggestive of evening repose.
Chopin’s Nocturne output spans virtually his entire creative career. Chopin’s nocturnes, like his scherzos, ballades and other pieces which have less restrictive forms, are such interesting lyrical pieces that all seem to tell an enthralling story and like any good story can mean something different to you on different days
Nocturnes, Op. 9 (The most famous)
The Nocturnes, Op. 9, Chopin’s earliest published entry in the genre, are a set of three nocturnes written between 1830 and 1832 when Chopin was around 20 years old. He dedicated this set to Maria Pleyel, the wife of an acquaintance of Chopin’s. Chopin was the piano teacher of Maria, and he dedicated many of his works to students.
The second nocturne of the set (nocturne Op. 9 No. 2) is regarded as Chopin’s most famous piece (especially on youtube). It was used into many movies and television shows, including Dexter, The Five Year Engagement, Mad Men and the Simpsons. The band Muse uses this nocturne in their song “United States of Eurasia”, with some strings and sound effects added.
The Nocturnes, Op. 15 are a set of three nocturnes written between 1830 and 1833 in Paris and Leipzig (slightly later in London). The work was published in January 1834, and was dedicated to Ferdinand Hiller.
Chopin gave the Nocturne, Op. 15 No. 3 the inscription “at the cemetery”. But when it was to go to print, he expunged the inscription, declaring “let them guess”.
The Nocturnes, Op. 27 are a set of two nocturnes composed in 1836 and published in 1837. Both nocturnes in this set are dedicated to the Countess Thérèse d’Appony, in whose salon Chopin often appeared. From this point onwards, Chopin published his Nocturnes in contrasted pairs rather than in groups of three.
Schumann described this set as exemplifying a ‘new wave’ of piano music.
When Felix Mendelssohn heard chopin playing 0f Nocturne, op.27 no.2, he wrote to his sister Fanny that Chopin “has also such a lovely new notturno, a considerable part of which I learnt by ear….”
The Nocturnes, Op. 32 are a set of two nocturnes written and published in 1837. Both nocturnes in this set are dedicated to Madame Camile de Billing.
The pair of nocturnes, Op. 32 may not have stirred as much admiration as the two previous opuses (sets), but they still occupy a dignified place among Chopin’s genre works. The second nocturne of this set was much later incorporated in an orchestral version into Fokine’s ballet Les Sylphides.
The Nocturnes, Op. 37 are a set of two nocturnes written and published in 1840. This set is something of a mix between the more dramatic Opus 27 and the far simpler textures and moods of Opus 32.
Robert Schumann commented that they were “of that nobler kind under which poetic ideality gleams more transparently.” He also said that the “two nocturnes differ from his earlier ones chiefly through greater simplicity of decoration and more quiet grace.”
The Nocturnes, Op. 48 are a set of two nocturnes written in 1841 and published the following year in 1842. They are dedicated to Mlle. Laure Duperré. The 1840s were, in many significant ways, the most musically fruitful years of Chopin’s short life.
The pair of Opus 48 are so unique in tone and powerfully dramatic in scope that one almost feels them to be more aptly described as ballades in miniature.
The two Nocturnes, Op. 55, the fifteenth and sixteenth of his nocturnes, were composed between 1842 and 1844, and published in August 1844.
Although most musicians of the late twentieth century considered them as two of the finest entries in the genre, during much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the pair was ignored by the majority of concertizing pianists.
The two Nocturnes Op. 62 were published in 1846 and dedicated to Mdlle. R. de Konneritz.
The Opus 62 nocturnes are so unique in every detail that it took musical Europe several decades to begin to appreciate just how important they really are.
Nocturne No.19 in E minor, op.post.72 no.1
The posthumous Nocturne in E minor, Op. 72, actually being a much earlier composition, was composed in 1827. Chopin’s first nocturne, it was the 19th to be published, in 1855 by Julian Fontana. Actually all the posthumously published nocturnes came from the composer’s younger days.
Nocturne No.20 in C sharp minor, op.post.
Chopin dedicated this Nocturne to his older sister, Ludwika Chopin, with the note: “To my sister Ludwika as an exercise before beginning the study of my second Concerto”.
The piece was famously played by Holocaust survivor Natalia Karp for the Nazi concentration camp commandant Amon Goeth, with Goeth being so impressed with the rendition, that he spared Karp’s life
Nocturne No.21 in C minor, op.post.
It was the last published Chopin’s nocturne, composed in 1837. Nocturne No.21 is famous for its striking simplicity and folk-like melody. It is the least known of Chopin’s nocturnes; nevertheless, the piece is as beautiful as the other ones.