Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)
Nocturne Op.27 No.2 D flat major
Chopin dips his pen in moonbeams and floods the world with lovelorn melodies from his nocturnes. The ideal example of this strain is undoubtedly the D flat, which contrives, too, to be an unsurpassed jewel of craftsmanship in every sense: in its uniquely delicate and seductive sonorities, in the extraordinary bel canto elaborations of its melody, in its harmonic subtlety and its classical proportion. By the time he composed the nocturne op.27, he went to Carlsbad, where, for the last time in his life, he reunited with his parents. On his way back to Paris, he met with his old friends from Warsaw, the Wodzińskis. He fell in love with their daughter Maria, a charming, intelligent, artistically talented woman. In September 1836, Chopin proposed marriage to Maria. She accepted, and her mother Countess Wodzińska approved in principle.
D flat Nocturne marked as lento sostenuto (very sustained), has ornamental practices and seems in many ways to epitomize the most characteristic qualities of the nocturne genre. Even in its detailed interval structure the opening phrase typifies Chopin’s melodic style, outlining one of the most prominent shapes underpinning his music. In this nocturne the expressive tone arrives as a direct and natural outgrowth of voice leading. Chopin uses heterophony (a single melodic line simultaneously displayed in different rhythms in two voices or more) that is preserved in the supremacy of the Italian-style melody while the polyphonic melody is developing. That is one of the first passages that he composed of this kind, a passage of a rare banality and even awkwardness.
It is initially unchanging but is interrupted by a change to the minor. The continuation of the phrase is also typical on the gentle undulation of its contour, describing a series of arcs of varying dimensions and in the placing its appoggiaturas (ornamentation), building into the substance of the melody the sort of expressive details. It’s called “one of the most glorious moments in Chopin’s entire output”. In this nocturne “feeling” and “mind” have been wedded in a manifestation of the art for more than a century and a half.
Barcarolle Op.60 F sharp major
After ten years Chopin’s music grew increasingly advanced and his music tells a different story. Some may have been directly related to his illness, others may have been exacerbated by George Sand, a French author. Chopin felt an aversion to her and begana relationship with her in 1838. Her increasing maternalism, ironical tendency, and caretaking instincts may have psychologically unmanned Chopin. Barcarolle, A flat Polonaise, B minor Sonata, and Polonaise-Fantasie are the product of the emotion of that situation.
Barcarolle stands apart from Chopin’s other works, even in its title, its pragmatic interpretation of the form, its slower tempo, and itslack of popularity compared to earlier works. But his richest nocturne is hidden behind the evocative but imprecise piece Barcarolle. This work was written in a barcarole form, which is a song about boating, associated with Venetian gondoliers and other scraps of Italian folk music. In this work one can easily imagine the decisive push of the gondolier’s pole, the swish of the water, and launching the journey on the boat. The work was the last glorious flowerings of Chopin’s lyricism and swaying melody in thirds and sixths notes. His sweet and tuneful song is untroubled by darker moods, but it keeps innocence. There is much sophistication in its gradually unfolding strains that are linked by the subtlest of transitions, related by recurring cadence figures and ultimately directed towards unexpectedly powerful climaxes. The mysteriously pulsing harmonies of the former create an upbeat to the exquisite Fioritura (flowering) of the latter and this becomes upbeat to the reprise of the main theme. Chopin’s late style Berceuse (lullaby with variation in D flat) is in the part of the Barcarolle found in the ostinato variation ( English: obstinate is a mothif or phrase, which is persistently repeated in the same musical voice) . Much of Chopin’s ornament may be operatic, but not in the cadence of Barcarolle. These are finger exercises further translated into melody in which there is no mimesis of the voice. The last page of this work is more ambiguous, and the voices are almost equally balanced in a rocking motion; the barcarole rhythm in the left hand is a foil to the fluid scales of the right and takes more completely with the last beats of its ascent. Finally, the cadence’s sonority justifies the bare octaves at the end.
Scherzo in C sharp minor, Op.39 No.3
The scherzo was completed in 1839 - seven years after the first - when Chopin paid what turned out to be an unhappy visit to Majorca. It is quite evident that Chopin's skill in form and construction had improved considerable after his first scherzo. Opus 39, No. 3 is the most ironic, majestic and tightly constructed of the four scherzi. It opens with two mysterious questions that are answered by two striking octaves that come as a surprise. The Italian word scherzo is often translated as a “joke”, but in this mature work, little is left of the “joke”. It is in modified sonata form. It was dedicated to his pupil Adolf Gutmann because, according to Wilhelm von Lenz (a writer and friend of Romantic period composers including Liszt), only Adolf could play the chords in the bass, which cannot be spanned by any left hand.
The scherzo is built upon two sharply contrasting elements. The first theme starts with a series of strong chords and thundering passages followed by a fast and heroic march. The tension is eliminated as soon as the second theme appears in calmness and serenity. These graceful passages consist of phrases with falling notes. It is said that these phrases echo sounds sometimes heard at the monastery in Valdemosa. The coda of the scherzo brings the work to a rhetorical ending and concludes the work with brilliance.
Dubal, David.The Art of The Piano. New York: Summit Books, 1989.
Huneker, James. Chopin: The Man and His Music. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1966.
Rosen, Charles. The Romantic Generation. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2003.
Samson, Jim. The Music of Chopin.London,Boston and Henley: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985.
Siepmann, Jeremy. Chopin, The Reluctant Romantic. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1995.