Nocturnes, Op. 55 (Chopin)

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The opening bars from Op. 55, No. 1 in F minor above, and the second theme below.

The two Nocturnes, Op. 55 by Frédéric Chopin, the fifteenth and sixteenth of his nocturnes, were composed between 1842 and 1844, and published in August 1844.[1] Chopin dedicated them to his pupil Jane Stirling.[2]

Nocturne in F minor, Op. 55, No. 1[edit]

Composed in 1842-1844, the F minor nocturne has an average duration of about 5 minutes.[3] The piece has been played by many famous pianists.

Structure[edit]

The piece is in ternary form (ABA). Its main theme has a slow 4/4 with a heavy, steady crotchet beat. It starts with the main theme which repeats once with only minor variations. The right hand plays a slow melody and the left hand accompanies with a bass note and then a chord, in crotchets. The second section is then played with, again, the right-hand playing the melody and the left-hand accompanying with bass notes and a chord. Although there are occasional changes to this pattern, for example the left-hand plays a sustained minim with a crotchet chord above. The main theme then comes back in with some variations to the first two times it was played: a triplet phrase is added to the 3rd bar of the section. The second section is again repeated with no variations, followed immediately by the first section again with the triplet sequence.

An excerpt from the middle section.

A tempo change to più mosso speeds up the piece. It starts off with some fast, triplet quavers and then three loud (forte) chords. This then repeats three further times until a completely new section comes in with a melody in the right hand and triplet broken chords in the left (see score on right). A descending scale and some large chords completes this section and leads it onto the first theme again.

There is then a large variation on the first theme where the main tune is played with other notes in between. There is then a large section of arpeggios and finishing off on 6 final chords. Modulating to the major (F major) for an interrupted final cadence.

There are two short chorales. The first, at bars 71-72 marks the transition from B section back to A, while the second, at 98-101, concludes the piece, in F major.

The piece was described by Frederick Niecks (Chopin's biographer) as: "we will note only the flebile (feeble) dolcezza of the first and the last section, and the inferiority of the more impassioned middle section".[2] Allmusic is more flattering: The melody has a "bittersweet tang", the B section "dramatic and anxious" culminating in an "exciting stretto", the whole "an effective entry-level piece for those players and listeners seeking a clear glimpse of the composer's basic style."[1]

Nocturne in E-flat major, Op. 55, No. 2[edit]

The second nocturne, in E major, features a 12/8 time signature, triplet quavers in the bass, and a lento sostenuto tempo marking. Of this one, Niecks wrote:

The second nocturne (in E flat major) differs in form from the other nocturnes in...that it has no contrasting second section, the melody flowing onward from beginning to end in a uniform manner. The monotony of the unrelieved sentimentality does not fail to make itself felt. One is seized by an ever-increasing longing to get out of this oppressive atmosphere, to feel the fresh breezes and warm sunshine, to see smiling faces and the many-coloured dress of Nature, to hear the rustling of leaves, the murmuring of streams, and voices which have not yet lost the clear, sonorous ring that joy in the present and hope in the future impart.

Allmusic writes:

If this ["continuously developing melodic strand"] causes a certain monotony, then it is the same brand of monotony that one's own inner stream of consciousness can, at times, engender. It is as if the composer has abandoned all the external trappings of nocturne "form" in order to place a greater emphasis on the essence of the genre's sentiment.

In popular culture[edit]

  • The F minor nocturne is featured in the 1997 action thriller The Peacemaker (starring George Clooney and Nicole Kidman), where the main terrorist character (Marcel Iureş as Dusan Gavrich), being a music teacher, explains to a young girl how to properly 'feel' and interpret the nuances in the music, and then plays it for her on the piano. The piece starts out as a solo piano performance and then expands into a full orchestral arrangement.
  • The first of these nocturnes was also used in the television series Boardwalk Empire.
  • The beginning of the Op 55 n° 2 nocturne can also be heard in the German expressionist film "Orlacs Hände" (1924) by Kino international.

References[edit]

Sources[edit]

  • David Heyer pp51–71 "An Analysis of the Chorales in Three Chopin Nocturnes: Op. 32, No.2; Op. 55, No.1; and the Nocturne in C# Minor (without opus number)". Masters thesis, University of Oregon, 2008-03.

External links[edit]