Chopin: In Search of the Poet Who Transformed Music Nocturne in E minor, Op. 72, No. 1
Updated: May 11, 2021
In stark contrast to compositions forcing keyboard acrobatics, Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) favors decorative and elaborative melodic arias. Rather than explore the development and integration of complex themes, the Chopinistic style results in sublime music carrying supple melodic lines that is intricate and intimate. Chopin is the epitome of a Romantic artist in private communion with his soul. His music, being an assault on the emotions, rather than on the senses.
The Polish pianist and composer with velvet fingers primarily wrote for the piano, as opposed to large scale symphonic works by great composers before him. His education in Italian and French opera coupled with exposure to Polish folk music resulted in music encompassing a lyrical, bel canto style carrying a hint of east-meets-west. Some of Chopin’s early compositions are influenced by salon music - short virtuoso piano pieces performed at a social gatherings, and are usually performed by the composer.
Nocturne is a French term loosely translated as of the night. Irish pianist and composer John Field (1782-1837) was the first to compose commercially published nocturnes. Before Field adopted the nocturne as a new genre of piano music, other composers wrote similar compositions known as serenades. Field’s nocturnes packed with introspective lyricism and supported by gently arpeggiated left-hand patterns also became a characteristic similar composition by Chopin.
Chopin’s nocturnes are some of his most famous pieces, and rightly so; they are packed with colour and emotion. Nocturnes feature an assortment of scales and twist with expressive melodies highly ornamented with trills and appoggiaturas, commonly approached and left by chromatic passages and supported by rhythmically stable accompaniments extending to the middle register. The accompaniment in a nocturne usually plays an interactive role in the piece rather than a supportive one. The melodies, harmonies, and dynamics of these pieces clearly reflect the night for which the genre is named.
The Nocturne in E minor which Chopin composed at the age of 17 can be looked at as the starting point for Chopin’s musical thought process. He composed it at a point in his life when he was indecisive as to whether or not he should leave his homeland in order to follow grandeur dreams. This nocturne is different from Chopin’s later pieces - most notably due to its simplicity.
Illness having been a recurring motif that shaped Chopin’s career, eventually cut it short at the age of 39. As per his will, Chopin's heart is pickled in cognac inside a crystal jar in his native country Poland.
“Chopin’s music is spontaneous, miraculous.... He found it without seeking it, without
previous imitation of it.”
novelist George Sand