Frédéric Chopin: Nocturne in E-flat Major, Op. 9, No. 2

I played this Nocturne by Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) as a LF a few weeks ago and it had an almost universal response among my students.  Most of the time I have difficulty keeping the room completely quiet during listening as most teenagers are averse to silence because if their mouths stop moving their brains start working which is sometimes painful.  However, all of my classes were drawn into this piece, and you could just about hear a pin drop...you know if I wasn't blasting Chopin through the speakers.  Their opinions all centered around a few themes:
  • The piece sounded depressing, but with some sort of fleeting element of happiness
  • It had romantic connotations, like a couple facing some sort of dilemma in their relationship
    • This one is interesting as the piece is dedicated to "Madame Camille Pleyel" (her first name being Marie), the wife of Camille Pleyel who owned the company that manufactured Chopin's favorite piano.  The Madame Marie was at one point engaged to Hector Berlioz (a French composer) which was broken off by Marie's mother causing Berlioz to plot to kill Marie, her mother and her eventual husband, Camille.  Berlioz didn't go through with it, despite stealing two double-barreled pistols to do the deed.  Camille and Marie eventually parted ways after a four-year marriage with "multiple infidelities."  So, dilemma might be an understatement.
  • More than a few suggested they could see a ballet scene
I was pleasantly surprised by my kids, as the Chopin Nocturnes are some of the best works ever written for solo piano.  They persist in our culture in many ways, one of my favorites being from a classic scene from the movie, "Tombstone," in which Doc Holiday played by Val Kilmer (which might have been his best role) defends his preference for Chopin over the more locally popular Steven "Stinkin'" Foster.  

in e minor, Op. 72, No. 1 to be exact.
Neither Doc Holiday nor Chopin invented the Nocturne, but the latter was an avid admirer of John Field (the Irish pianist/composer who did) despite Field reportedly not reciprocating the sentiment.  It was not uncommon for composers to develop rivalries as each would influence the other as they published and performed new music, often lending the idea that certain ideas were "stolen" from them.

Despite this tendency, Franz Liszt (who was born a year and a half after Chopin and became one of the most well-known virtuoso pianists of the Romantic Era alongside Chopin) and Chopin maintained a friendship, though one that almost certainly held a friendly rivalry.  When looking for information about these two titans of the Romantic Era I found this brilliant webcomic from Kate Beaton, which imagines several conversations between the two, wonderfully contrasting their personalities.

As far as Op. 9, No. 2 goes, it is an atypical example of his collection as it is not in what is known as Ternary Form.  This form can be labeled as having and A section followed by a B and a return to A (or A-B-A).  Both A and B are considered substantial enough to stand by themselves and are contrasted from each other to the point of independence.

This Nocturne, however, is in the similarly constructed Rounded Binary which has a notable difference of not requiring the B section to completely contrast with the A and the cadences (or endings) of the B section does not have to be an Authentic Cadence (meaning that it returns to the tonic chord from the dominant).  Also, the second time you hear the A following the B, it usually is not a full rendition of the original A.

I get it.  You didn't take Music Theory.  Here's some fruit to help make sense of that:

Speaking of Alan Rickman, he does bear a striking resemblance to the only known photo of Chopin...

Snape.  Snape.  Severus Snape.  

Homework: Write about each section of the form (A, B, and the Coda (or C) as if each part of the form represents different characters (such as in a novel or movie, etc.).

You can leave your answers in the comments.

See you next Friday.


Several stock photo sites of fruit, a cow, and Alan Rickman