Fryderyk Chopin

Nocturne in B major, Op. 62 No. 1 Op. 62 No. 1

The Nocturne in B major opens with what might be described as a bard’s striking of the strings. His narrative will subsequently unfold, but only after a moment’s consideration. It is complemented by a second part, resembling an inner voice, sustained by the broken striking of a chord on the keys.

At first, the action proceeds gently and smoothly (dolce, legato). But the song soon turns into declamation, led by a lofty, dramatic raised voice. The middle section is filled by that sostenuto (in A flat major), but just before it Chopin briefly halts the flow of the musical narrative. Spontaneous expression is replaced by reflection, and so the music sounds differently here than one might have expected. It is not strong and explosive, as is most often the case in the middle section of a nocturne. On the contrary, it is slightly disturbed, inhibited, full of wavering and uncertainty, triggered by the play of syncopations. Chopin ends the sostenuto with extreme harmonic subtlety and delicacy. And then a surprise: the main section of the Nocturne comes again, with its opening theme altered peculiarly and in the extreme: the familiar melody is veiled by countless trills, grace notes and runs. This often happened in an Italian da capoaria, in Italian bel canto style: when the principal melody returned, the singer had not just the right, but the duty to embellish it in the most elaborate way possible, flaunting his vocal skills.

In the Anglo-Saxon world, the B major Nocturne has been given the name of an exotic greenhouse flower: ‘Tuberose’. James Huneker explains why: ‘the chief tune has charm, a fruity charm’, and its return in the reprise ‘is faint with a sick, rich odor’.