Frédéric a tripartite structure which is presented through

Frédéric Chopin’s piano piece of Nocturne in C-Sharp Minor marks one of
the composer’s famous posthumous pieces after being “the most illustrious
composer of piano music in the century” (Miller, 1973). Labelled as a
miniaturist, Chopin was responsible for the composition of eighteen nocturnes,
due to the common occurrence of “confining himself to the smaller structures;
all but a meagre handful of his compositions are not for piano solo” (Ewen,
1966). Although this piece was not originally labelled as a nocturne by Chopin
when first composed in 1830, this piece has developed into one of the
musician’s most famous nocturnes, and compositions, as a Romantic.


As previously noted, the piece which
Chopin originally wrote for his sister Ludwika, was not identified as a
nocturne by the composer himself. Instead, this was published by “Marceli
Antoni Szulc…as an Adagio” and later on by Ludwika who named it “Lento, of a
nocturne character” (Mieczyslaw, n.d.). There are many evidences as to why this
piece has developed into a nocturne, such as its repetitive bass line, which
outlines the main chords in the piece, next to the continuous note patterns in
its melody. Furthermore, Chopin’s nocturnes “are typified by a tuneful and
ornamented melody, with a left-hand accompaniment based on flat or broken
chords” (Artur, n.d.). These features mentioned are also present in another of
Chopin’s nocturnes, and subjectively his most famous one, of Nocturne in E Flat
Major (Opus 9 No.2) which demonstrates this common repetitiveness of the bass
line versus an unrestricted melody line, as seen in Figure 1.

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Figure 1: Nocturne in E Flat Major (Opus 9

We can also see that Chopin has
chosen to compose this piece in a tripartite structure which is presented
through how “the outer sections are characterised by a lyricism and
tunefulness, a dwelling on a particular mood, whereas the middle section brings
a violent contrast” (Artur, n.d.). With Chopin’s use of dynamics and a contrast
of a melody dominated homophony in the first and last section, to a monophony
of the bass in bar 36 in its middle section, we can see how swift changes can
signify this tripartite structure. Chopin also demonstrates his common use of
an “Italian ‘bel canto’…regular eight bar periods” (Harman, Milner &
Mellers, 1962) with this being present, for example, from bars 5-12 repeating
as a reprise in bars 13-20, as well as his bass monophony, lasting for eight
bars from bars 38-45.


Moving on to the melody, Chopin uses
many examples of ornamentation throughout the main melody line. The use of
trills, which can be seen to be used in bars 5, 11, 13, 29, 47, 52, and 57 with
the marking of ‘tr’, as well as appoggiaturas in bars 5, 11, 13, 47, 52, and 57
in the treble clef. Chopin uses this ornamentation against an ostinato-like
repetition of a steady metronomic bass-line, as if to demonstrate an
unconstrained melody compared to a very rigid bass-line. Another way Chopin
demonstrates an open melody line is through his use of chromatic scales in the
piece, demonstrated in bars 18, and 53 (seen in Figure 2).

Figure 2: Chromatic Scale in Bar 53

This chromaticism shows the
influence of the Romantic Era on Chopin’s music where Romantic music “became
more chromatic, more willing to give priority to melodic structural processes”
(Whittall, 1987). There are also examples of Chopin using harmonic scales in
bar 15 and 58, 59 and 60. In addition, Chopin notably uses a scalic movement in
his melody with a more step-like manner between notes, except in minor
instances such as the Octave jump in bar 14.


The rhythm can be seen to be driven
through its use of tempo markings, with its less common title of Lento con gran espressione, translating
exactly to ‘slow with great expression’, already setting out the key rhythm to
be of a slow nature. Additionally, Chopin constantly controls the rhythm’s
speed through its use of tempo markings such as ‘rallentando’ (seen in bar 42)
and the marking in bar 5 of the piece being played in a ‘legato’ manner. These
all cooperate to create a gradual rhythm, typical of a nocturne. Chopin also
creates this slow atmosphere with his use of rests and minims, which allows an
audience to reflect with a lamentable tone being created. Chopin uses quaver
and minim rests within his introduction between chords (of bars 1-4) to create
an initial slow rhythm, with the assistance of the pedal markings. A likewise
use of ‘reflective pauses’ is with the use of fermatas, evident between the
second and third section in bar 46 and in the final bar, where the performer is
able to play these notes at their discretion of how long they want to keep their
audience waiting. This also creates breaks in the rhythm, such as in bar 46,
where the rallentando previously written in bar 42 becomes overwhelming and
creates a sense of anticipation. The piece regularly uses triplets and
irregular rhythms, such as the use of triplets in bar 15 and the irregular
rhythms in the scale in bar 59 against the four crotchets, emphasising the
conflicting cross rhythms between the two lines. Finally, Chopin chooses to
have a changing of time signatures which significantly changes the piece’s
rhythm; this changes from the initial common time of ,
to a sudden change to  in bar 32 and  in bar 33, which continues until bar 45, where
it resumes in common time.


The texture remains primarily
consistent, with the piece mainly showing a melody dominated homophony. This is
presented throughout bars 9-32 and 47 until the end with a controlled chordal
metronomic bass line compared to this free melodic line, showing that the two
outer sections of the tripartite remains treble clef dominated. Although this
homophony is present throughout the majority of the piece, a monophony of the
bass is also shown, with the bass line becoming dominant in the second half of
bar 20 and bars 36-45. The texture between the melody and bass line also demonstrates
cross rhythms in the piece, shown in bar 15 with 5 triplets of quavers and
semi-quavers playing against constant quavers in the bass line (seen in Figure
3). Moreover, the texture between an irregular rhythm compared to a regular one
is seen in the scale of bar 59 where Chopin has chosen to fit 35 notes into the
space of 2 beats (seen in Figure 4).





When looking at the texture of the
introduction of bars 1-4, we can see that the two lines have more of an equal
texture, moving in a homophonic sense with a chordal texture, which contrasts
to the melody dominated homophony which is present for the majority of the


A variety of harmonic interactions
can be seen with multiple key changes, although Chopin chooses to have the key
signature in C Sharp Minor. This may be because “Harmony was found to be an
important vehicle for Romantic expression” (Miller, 1973). This key signature
is shown to briefly go into G Sharp Major in bar 2 and bar 4 with the dominant
chord of C Sharp Major and the tonic G Sharp Major being played. The piece then
resumes in C Sharp Minor, but plays G Sharp Major at the end of bar 7, going
into an F Sharp Minor Chord, showing that the key changes again to F Sharp
Minor for bar 8, as well as bars 15 and 16. When the second section begins in
bar 21, the key changes to A Major until bar 25 where the piece plays again in
F Sharp Minor. This is how it continues, until bar 29 where it briefly goes
into C Sharp Minor again with an imperfect cadence on G Sharp Major in bar 30.
Bars 31 to 46 is then played in G Sharp Minor, with a G Sharp Minor chord being
played in bar 31, where it then goes from the key of C Sharp Minor in bar 47 to
F Sharp Minor in bars 49-50, and back to its original key of C Sharp Minor from
bars 51 until the end. Chopin also ends the piece with a Tierce de Picardie,
ending on the major chord of C Sharp Major. Another aspect of harmony which
Chopin uses is with the occasional use of homophonic melodic lines, with Chopin
using consonant intervals of parallel 6ths in bars 24 and 28, which
are played after dissonant major second intervals in bars 23 and 27.


Frederik Chopin, a master of the
piano piece, was not restricted by the limited instrumentation of the piano “as
a solo instrument, it had the advantage that it possessed an orchestral range
of sonorities while remaining under the control of the individual’s hands and spirit”
(Harman, Milner & Mellers, 1962). Chopin makes frequent use of pedalling,
which can be seen throughout bars 1-4, which is particularly beneficial to
Chopin due to the ‘legato’ playing of the piano being able to be reinforced by
the sostenuto pedal. Chopin’s use of accented notes (as seen in the first note
of bar 58) can also be advantageous for the piano, as these allow the player to
emphasise particular notes to fit the mood of the piece. Chopin also uses
dynamics heavily in this piece, alike many other of his piano compositions,
where many Romantic musicians used a “wider range of dynamics levels between
loud and soft and extensive uses of crescendo and diminuendo” (Miller, 1973).
Chopin uses many dynamic markings in the piece such as piano (e.g. bar 1),
pianissimo (e.g. bar 3), pianississimo (e.g. bar 46), sotto voce (e.g. bar 25)
and forte (e.g. 19).  Chopin also uses
crescendo and decrescendo markings, as seen in bar 10. It is seen that the
piano in this era was auspicious “because of its capacity for sonority, dynamic
range, and gradations between loud and soft – characteristics which the
harpsichord lacked” (Miller 1973). 


To conclude, although Frédéric
Chopin’s piece of Nocturne in C Sharp
Minor was not initially labelled as a nocturne, many features of the piece
can indicate how the piece strongly resembles one, such as its structure,
scalic movement in its melody and the texture between the bass and melodic
line. This piece itself acts successfully as a nocturne written by, who was
once referred by composer Robert Schumann as: “the boldest and proudest poetic
spirit of the times!” (Morgan-Browne, 1934).