What are the essential features of Chopin(TM)s style?

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History A: Assignment 2 Chopin Nocturnes                                                                                                  Pete Town 20243270

 What are the essential features of Chopin’s style?

The two Nocturnes which form Opus 62, written three years before Chopin’s death in 1846, were described by Kleczyński as ‘evidence of an enfeebled creative power.’  This essay will highlight and explain Chopin’s essential stylistic features, aim to discover if they are still prevalent in this work and then decide whether the opinion of Kleczyński is valid or not.

One of the most essential features of Chopin’s style was ‘freedom of melodic line’ and this can clearly be seen in both Nocturnes.  Figure 1 shows the first bar of the second Nocturne’s opening theme and how it is varied on its two returns.   Chopin’s conception of rubato was to ‘release the melodic part from all metrical features’ and to give his melodies the ‘perfect freedom of inflection found in singing.’  The melody feels “released” and sings out over the metrical left hand which remains the same in each variation.  This certainly doesn’t sound enfeebled and the melody although initially simple is enjoyable to listen to.  If Chopin were enfeebled then it is doubtful that he would have been conscious to keep ‘exact repetition to a minimum’ in each return of the melody. 

Fig. 1 F. Chopin Nocturne Op. 62 No. 2 Bars 1, 9 and 25

        In the first Nocturne of the work the original theme returns with what Fielden calls ‘perennial trills’ and these do give the music a certain urgency as seen in figure 2 but the listener also feels as if the piano is crying out.   In contrast to Kleczyński’s view Samson writes: ‘because of the earlier simplicity of presentation, this reprise emerges as one of the supreme achievements of Chopin’s ornamental melody.’  For some listeners, however, these trills may seem a little overdone and unimaginative and even justify Kleczyński’s opinion that Chopin’s creativity was lacking at this point.  

Fig. 2 F. Chopin Nocturne Op. 62 No. 1 Bars 69 – 71

Despite the possible differences of opinion regarding the melody shown above Chopin’s characteristic transplantation of bel canto into his piano writing is apparent in both Nocturnes that form Opus 62.  Bel canto is defined as ‘a style of singing characterised by beauty of tone rather than dramatic power.’  Chopin’s melody in figures 1 and 2 isn’t dramatic but certainly has beauty.  The melodic decoration is described by Eigeldinger as ‘small groups of added grace notes, falling like tiny drops of speckled dew over the melodic figure.’  This description fits the sound of the music beautifully and can be seen in b. 25 of figure 1 and b. 71 of figure 2.  In contrast to Kleczyński’s statement, Hedley considers this Nocturne ‘remarkable for the profusion of Chopinesque ornamentation… the non plus ultra of pianistic filigree work’ - hardly the result of enfeebled creative power.

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        Despite a characteristic bel canto and his ‘abhorrence of massive effects’ in his melodies Chopin does insert occasional dramatic moments into his Nocturnes such as the example shown in Figure 3.  After the ‘strangely haunting passage’ of bars 21 to 25, b. 26 comes as something of a surprise.  The sudden dynamic change to fortissimo (very loud), a sudden heightening of pitch and the rapid, almost glissando, effect only serve to heighten the emotion in the piece and certainly do not sound in any way enfeebled.

Fig. 3 ...

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