Frédéric Chopin: Nocturne Op.15, No.3


Chopin’s catalogue of music reaches around 235 compositions, most of which are for solo piano. He was educated in the tradition of Beethoven, Mozart and Clementi, and was also very much influenced by Haydn and Hummel. Chopin was the first to compose ballades and scherzi as individual concert pieces (usually they come in a set). He is known for his études, nocturnes and polonaises, which make up a large proportion of his musical archive. His music is still very popular today, with his music being regularly recorded and performed worldwide. Composers such a Grieg, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Stravinksy and Milhaud were all influenced in some way by Chopin’s compositional technique.

The emotional depth that Chopin found within his nocturnes and other popular forms placed him away from his peers, and is perhaps one of the reasons why his music is still so popular. Most importantly, even when not in Poland, Chopin made sure his unique Polish character style of writing music came across, and many of the dance pieces he composed reflect this. His technically demanding style makes his music a challenge for any pianist, both technically and emotionally.


The Music

Nocturne Op. 15 No. 3 was composed between 1832-1833 in Paris. As part of a set of three, this particular nocturne is striking for a number of reasons, not least its beauty and elegance. Dedicated to Ferdinan Hiller, a German composer whose music has been somewhat forgotten in the modern (although he was dubbed as one of the ‘greats’ in the nineteenth century).

No. 3 deviates from the ‘usual’ trends that are seen in Chopin’s nocturnes. With the previous five nocturnes using an arpeggiated accompaniment, No. 3 uses block chords for a large portion of the piece. The work is also in binary form, not ternary like you would expect a nocturne to be in, therefore there is no repetition of the first section.

The melody is also rather fragmented and not as flowing as you would expect, however Chopin was able to extract the beauty and tenderness of the music, so that it doesn’t actually seem that different to his previous works. His use of chromaticism plays a large role in this and is used to transition into sections, omitting a lot of cadences and giving the continuous night-time aesthetic that is usually sought after in a nocturne.

Beginning in G Minor, the first section of the nocturne can be cut into two defining sections. The first a thematic part in the home key which leads into a short developmental passage that leads into a subtle coda which brings us to the second section. This section is unusually marked religioso and is comprised of chorale-like chordal sequences. This section ends with a tierce de picardy (like with all Chopin nocturnes), however it does not return to the first section, which is why it isn’t in ternary form.

The idea of a nocturne is to portray the nighttime, and No. 3 does this by portraying elements of mystery and tense characteristics with the use of extreme dynamics and the two defining sections. This work is in a relaxing 3/4 time and this creates a ‘loose’ improvisation feel with the melody as it often plays irregular melodic structures. The first twelve bar phrase is an example of this, with it not being in three 4 bar phrases, but instead two 6 bar phrases. B. 4 there is a prolonged high F in the melody, which carries for 3.5 bars, which eventually resolves to D, which is part of the diminished chord of iii and not i. This leaves no sense of revolution, hence the mysterious and tense atmosphere. There is a sense of uneasiness throughout the whole of this piece and it all stems from the irregular melodic structures set out from the beginning of the work.

Although beginning in G minor, the work quickly moves away from the home key and ends up in non-related keys such as F# sharp major (in the development section). The religioso section is the most intriguing to me as it begins in F major with the use of pedalling creates a grand feeling – reminiscent of church chorales. There seems to be more structure to this section, with continuity in the melody being supported by the block chords and more conventional cadence points. The melody and accompaniment develop together and create an intriguing dialogue which combine religious and nighttime ideas together. Due to the main melody not using ornamentation, the relationship between the two parts can be heard and appreciated a lot more.


This blog is dedicated to Dominik Kocbuch.

Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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