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When, after two bars of a ‘mood-setting’ lead-in, the piano’s melody in the F sharp minor Nocturne begins its song, the impression might be that it will last forever. ‘What is most exquisite and most individual in Chopin’s art, wherein it differs most wonderfully from all others,’ noted André Gide, ‘I see in just that non-interruption of the phrase; the insensible, the imperceptible gliding from one melodic proposition to another, which leaves or gives to a number of his compositions the fluid appearance of streams.’[i] That is what characterises Chopin – it should be added – above all during the 1840s, in his last, reflective, post-Romantic phase. This is the source of Wagner’s unendliche Melodie.

The middle section of this Nocturne brings another kind of music, differentiated by means of key (the unexpected D flat major), tempo (slower), metre (triple) and above all character. We have the relentless, obsessive and dramatic repetition, in every way possible, of a single formula, confounding all continuity and coherence. Here, Chopin’s world breaks up into two-bar phrases, which sound as if they existed just for themselves.

Next, the unbroken song of the beginning returns, as the logic of the form dictates. Yet the nostalgic song does not return in an identical guise. It swells with the power of the chords, before falling, not now in F sharp minor, but in the key of F sharp major, which brightens the acoustic landscape.

[i] André Gide, Notes on Chopin, tr. Bernard Frechtman (New York, 1949), 41.

Author: Mieczysław Tomaszewski
[Cykl audycji "Fryderyka Chopina Dzieła Wszystkie"]
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Nocturne in F sharp minor, Op. 48 No. 2
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