COMPOSITIONS compositions

Nocturne in E flat major, incypit

Genre: Nocturne

Key: E-flat major

Opus/WN: Op. 9 No. 2

Creation date: 1830-1831

Acc. to Paderewski: VII/2

Acc. to Turło: 109

Instruments: piano

Composition dedicated to:

Maria Camillowa Pleyel


The Nocturne in E flat major, though certainly not the most beautiful of Chopin’s nocturnes, is perhaps the most popular, particularly among young would-be pianists. Jan Kleczyński supposes that ‘this charming bagatelle did more for the popularity of Chopin than all his other works’. Although, as he asserts, ‘it is impossible to deny certain resemblances to Field’s first Nocturne, if only the key, the rhythm, and the last peculiarity […] there is a certain tinge of earnest sadness unknown to Field, which even at that time began to manifest itself.’[1]

For Zdzisław Jachimecki, the Nocturne in E flat major is ‘an example of a rare sense of stylistic purity’. Chopin displays a masterful use of a single kind of wondrously subtle accompaniment throughout this work. And he derived the entire nocturne from a single theme subjected to variations, altered through the continual surges and ebbs of ethereal ornaments and figurations. Only in the conclusion of the work does he introduce a variant: a sudden eruption of expression leading to a concise apotheosis – just as suddenly broken off and stilled. Most commentators have articulated their impressions of the E flat major Nocturne in superlative terms. Jachimecki heard ‘delicate thoughts that delight us with their sweetness and charm’. Tadeusz Zieliński noted its ‘captivating tunefulness’ and ‘a remarkable fluidity to the melody’. Władysław Żeleński attempted to account for the origins of that melodiousness. Over a century ago, in 1899, he wrote: ‘Chopin was always enamoured of flowing song, and we know that Italian song was always his ideal’. Żeleński also wrote: ‘The charms of Chopin’s melody never fade, as our master coupled it to a singularly deep harmony and highly original rhythms’.

In the late memoirs of the interesting and mysterious figure Wilhelm von Lenz, a pupil of Liszt (then of Chopin) and an eminent music writer (author of an important study of Beethoven), one comes across an amusing, but thought-provoking story concerning this Nocturne. Lenz recalls the times when he took lessons from Chopin. ‘I tormented Chopin most’, he relates, ‘with the famous Nocturne in E flat major, Op. 9 […] in 1842 it was in the full bloom of fashion […] When Chopin was pleased with a scholar, he, with a small, well-sharpened pencil, made a cross under the composition. I had received one, in the Nocturne (premier chevron); next time I came, I got another. I came still another time. “Do please let me alone,” said Chopin […] there, you have another cross, more than three I never give. You cannot do it any better!” “You play it so beautifully,” I ventured, “can no one else?” “Liszt can,” said Chopin, drily, and played it to me no more. He had noted in it some very important little changes for me; his notes were clean, small, and sharp’.[2]

The exceptional popularity of the E flat major Nocturne has manifested itself in a striking way: through transcriptions. They have been produced in record number – dozens of them. The Nocturne’s melody is most often given to violinists, with the first transcription, during Chopin’s lifetime, made by Karol Lipiński.

[1] Jean Kleczynski [Jan Kleczyński], How to Play Chopin, tr. Alfred Whittingham (London, n.d.), 14.

[2] Wilhelm von Lenz, The Great Piano Virtuosos of Our Time, tr. Madeleine R. Baker (New York, 1899) 60–61.

Author: Mieczysław Tomaszewski
[Cykl audycji "Fryderyka Chopina Dzieła Wszystkie"]
Polish Radio, program II


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