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8.554045 - CHOPIN: Nocturnes (Selection)

Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)
Nocturnes (Selections)

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 inamorato 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.

The three nocturnes that make up Opus 9 were written either during Chopin's final period in Warsaw or during his first months abroad. They were published in Paris in 1833, with a dedication to Thomas De Quincey's "celestial pianofortist" Marie Moke, once engaged to Berlioz, but from 1831 until their separation four years later, the wife of the piano-manufacturer Camille Pleyel, in whose Salle Pleyel Chopin gave his first public concert in Paris. The B flat minor Nocturne, Opus 9, No. 1, with its more embellished melodic line and passionate central section is followed by the familiar E flat Nocturne and a third of rather more energetic character in B major.

The three Nocturnes of Opus 15 were published by Maurice Schlesinger in 1834 with a dedication to Ferdinand Hiller, who had impressed Chopin as a boy with great talent. Hiller was a pupil of Hummel and a close friend of Mendelssohn. The first of the set, in F major, has a passionate F minor central section, followed by an F sharp major Nocturne of greater complexity and a gentler G minor Nocturne, marked Lento, languido e rubato.

Schlesinger, a somewhat unprincipled publisher, satirised by Flaubert, who was in love with Schlesinger's wife, published the Opus 27 Nocturnes in 1836, with a dedication to Countess Apponyi, wife of the Austrian ambassador in Paris, who brought Johann Strauss to Paris in the same year. Chopin had deplored the tastes of Vienna and the dominance of Strauss and Lanner, both enjoying, to his expressed surprise, the title of Kapellmeister. The C sharp minor Nocturne, Opus 27, No. 1, has at its heart a more dramatic A flat major section, while the Nocturne in D flat major, the second of the set, marked Lento sostenuto, includes more elaborate chromatic embellishment.

The eleventh of Chopin's Nocturnes, in the key of B major, opens the set of two published in Berlin in 1837 and forming Opus 32. The nocturnes were dedicated this time to Baronne de Billing, a pupil of the composer. The first of the pair lacks elaborate ornamentation, with a conclusion of dramatic contrast. The second, in A flat major, has a brief chordal introduction before moving into a more familiar texture. Its central section includes an excursion into the key of F sharp minor.

The C minor Nocturne of 1837 was only published 100 years later.

The second attempt at the form, the Nocturne in C sharp minor, was written in 1830, Chopin's last year in Warsaw, which he left, never to return, on 2nd November. The direction Lento con gran espressione indicates the character of the work, which was first published posthumously in Poznan in 1875.

Two nocturnes were published in 1840 by Eugène-Théodore 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 E 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 had become 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 Elsner, 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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