CHOPIN: Nocturnes (Selection) (Idil Biret) (Naxos: 8.554045)
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The son of a French emigre of relatively humble origin, who hadestablished himself as a schoolmaster in Warsaw and espoused the cause ofPoland with enthusiasm, Fryderyk Chopin was to make his home and career inParis, after early success at home, where he was trained at the Conservatoryand gave a series of public concerts before trying his luck in Vienna. Paris,however, proved more suitable for his particular talents. As a pianist heexcelled in a peculiar delicacy of nuance, while as a teacher and as agentleman he proved acceptable in the elegant salons of the French capital.
For some ten years Chopin enjoyed or occasionally suffered arelationship with the strong-willed blue-stocking Aurore Dudevant, better knownby 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 wasto 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 onetime synonymous with the Serenade, but with the Irish pianist John Fieldand Chopin, his successor, a lyrical piano piece offering, nominally at least,a poetic vision of the night. Field wrote eighteen piano pieces with this titlebetween the years 1814 and 1835 and these introduced a new form of piano musicthat was developed not only in the Nocturne but in other separatemovements for piano throughout the century.
The three nocturnes that make up Opus 9 were written either duringChopin's final period in Warsaw or during his first months abroad. They werepublished in Paris in 1833, with a dedication to Thomas De Quincey's"celestial pianofortist" Marie Moke, once engaged to Berlioz, butfrom 1831 until their separation four years later, the wife of thepiano-manufacturer Camille Pleyel, in whose Salle Pleyel Chopin gave his firstpublic concert in Paris. The B flat minor Nocturne, Opus 9, No. 1, withits more embellished melodic line and passionate central section is followed bythe familiar E flat Nocturne and a third of rather more energeticcharacter in B major.
The three Nocturnes of Opus 15 were published by MauriceSchlesinger in 1834 with a dedication to Ferdinand Hiller, who had impressedChopin as a boy with great talent. Hiller was a pupil of Hummel and a closefriend of Mendelssohn. The first of the set, in F major, has a passionate Fminor central section, followed by an F sharp major Nocturne of greatercomplexity and a gentler G minor Nocturne, marked Lento, languido erubato.
Schlesinger, a somewhat unprincipled publisher, satirised by Flaubert,who was in love with Schlesinger's wife, published the Opus 27 Nocturnes in1836, with a dedication to Countess Apponyi, wife of the Austrian ambassador inParis, who brought Johann Strauss to Paris in the same year. Chopin haddeplored the tastes of Vienna and the dominance of Strauss and Lanner, bothenjoying, to his expressed surprise, the title of Kapellmeister. The C sharpminor Nocturne, Opus 27, No. 1, has at its heart a more dramaticA flat major section, while the Nocturne in D flat major, the second ofthe set, marked Lento sostenuto, includes more elaborate chromaticembellishment.
The eleventh of Chopin's Nocturnes, in the key of B major, opensthe set of two published in Berlin in 1837 and forming Opus 32. The nocturneswere dedicated this time to Baronne de Billing, a pupil of the composer. Thefirst of the pair lacks elaborate ornamentation, with a conclusion of dramaticcontrast. The second, in A flat major, has a brief chordal introduction beforemoving into a more familiar texture. Its central section includes an excursioninto 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 toreturn, on 2nd November. The direction Lento con gran espressione indicates thecharacter of the work, which was first published posthumously in Poznan in1875.
Two nocturnes were published in 1840 by Eug?¿ne-Theodore Troupenas, whobriefly replaced Schlesinger, whom Chopin now accused of sharp practice indisposing 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 followedby a G major Nocturne, with a lilting secondary episode.
By 1841 disagreement with Schlesinger had been put aside and hepublished a set of two nocturnes, the first in C minor and the second in Fsharp minor, dedicated to Chopin's pupil Laure Duperre. Opus 48, No. 1, movesforward to a central C major section of gentler character, increasing inexcitement as the opening material returns. The F sharp minor Nocturne thatcompletes the set moves into a relatively sombre D flat major section of someharmonic complexity.
Two more nocturnes were published by Schlesinger in 1844, dedicated toJane Stirling, a middle-aged Scottish pupil of Chopin whose nuptial ambitionsoutweighed her musical talent. It was through her that Chopin travelled in 1848to London and to Scotland and to an endless round of tedious social visits thatlasted seven months, until he could escape back to Paris again, his health nowmuch worse. In 1844, however, Chopin was still involved with George Sand,although their relationship had its difficulties as her two children, Mauriceand Solange, grew up and used him in their own rivalries and jealousies. The Fminor Nocturne, Opus 55, No. 1, allows the opening material to re-appearin more elaborate form in conclusion. It is followed by a second, the Nocturnein E flat, marked by its use of a second melodic voice, accompanying thefirst.
Chopin wrote his last two nocturnes in 1846 and they were published inthe same year by Brandus, who had bought Maurice Schlesinger's business and waslater to acquire Troupenas. They were dedicated to another of the composer's pianopupils, Mlle. de Konneritz. Opus 62, No. 1, in B major, is introduced bytwo chords, the first suggesting another tonality. There is an A flat majorcentral section and an elaborated return of the material of the openingsection. The final work, the Nocturne in E major, has a secondaryepisode with a more energetic accompanying figure. The two nocturnes werewritten in the autumn of 1846 at Nohant, which Chopin only left in November toreturn alone to Paris, giving rise to rumours about a quarrel with George Sand,with whom he quarrelled definitively the following year, after her daughter'smarriage.
Chopin had become a student at the Warsaw Conservatory, a relatively newinstitution, in 1826, committing himself to a continuation of his studies inharmony, counterpoint and theory, but in fact largely going his own way, underthe supervision of the head of the institution, Josef Elsner, with whom he hadalready studied for some years. His second year brought a variety ofcompositions, waltzes, a polonaise, a mazurka and the first of his nocturnes,the Nocturne in E minor, published only posthumously, in 1855, as Opus72, No. 1. It is a work of relative maturity, marked by its translucenttexture.