Chopin’s Nocturne in G minor, op 15 no 3, is a striking work that is unique to its genre when examined in the stage of Chopin’s compositional development. It was dedicated to Ferdinand Hiller, a German composer whose music is not mentioned often in modern times even though he was hailed as one of the greats in mid to late 19th century. At the time of composition of this nocturne, around 1832 - 33, Hiller was part of a generation of musicians who were around the same age as Chopin (20-25 years old). The two composers must have met in the pianist circles that were forming around in Paris and which Chopin was certainly involved in. feeling homesick and concerned because of the failed uprising in Warsaw. Musically he was trying to achieve his own unique voice as he was already exposed to the music of Hummel and Field. One might dare say, the situation was ripe for experiments:
The nocturne is unique because it deviates from general characteristics of the previous nocturnes composed by Chopin -This was the 6th nocturne composed: it does not feature an arpeggiated accompaniment figure in the left hand, instead it features block chords accompaniment. The melody is not flowing (in the sense one might expect a nocturne melody to flow) and does not repeat with the ornamentation typical of Chopin’s melodic style. The overall structure of the piece is in Binary form and not ternary as one might predict (there is no repetition of the first section), and perhaps what is more important, the second section is marked religioso by Chopin and resembles a choral - like passage.
Another point of interest is the beauty in the delicate containment of chromatic elements - especially in the developmental passage - yet at no point does the listener feel the music is out of character with its neighboring sections: chromaticism is used in a delicate manner to transition through passages, and to alter the weight of cadences in order to create a continuous night like aesthetics that match the overall purpose of the piece.
Despite all the deviations and experimentations, Chopin still manages to achieve a coherent work that resembles various elements of the night; therefore achieving what one might consider, a nocturne.
On a macro level, the piece is in binary form, which deviates from the general ternary form of most of Chopin’s nocturnes. The B section is in sharp contrast from the opening material in almost all elements of music such as melody, phrase structure, key, and nature of aesthetic.
The A section can be conceived as two sections; a main thematic part in g minor, and a developmental passage that leads in a subtle Coda to the B section. The B section is a delightful contrasting choral like passage in the key of F major, and is marked religioso, The B section ends in a Picardy third cadence without recapitulation of the A section or A’; hence, this is why it is in binary form.
When considering the nocturne’s type of music as a short lyrical piece portraying elements of the night, one cannot but feel the mysterious, wondering, tense, and lost characteristics of the night portrayed in the first section of the piece.
The usage of ties as rhythmic motif in the right hand, and two chords accompaniment (plus a rest) in ¾ time creates a loose, improvisatory like gestures with irregular phrase structure thatportray the wondering Chopin as he finds the next note on the piano.
One senses oddity from the first 12 bar phrase, it is not an 8 bar phrase, and the 12 bar segment is not divided into 4 bar units. Instead, it is two 6 bar sections: the first is prolonged by a lingering high F that is tied over 3 measures and eventually resolving to a D (which is part of a iii diminished chord and not i). The act of resolving creates confusion because it can be observed from two perspectives: 6 bar unit that ends on the High F, which is very tense, leaving no sense of resolution, but create symmetrical 3 bars of i chord and 3 bars of v (minor), or as 6 bars unit with the 7th bar being an illusion, I prefer to hear it as the latter. The second 6 bar unit ends on a V chord and provides the same two perspectives respectively to Bar 12 and 13 with regards to illusion. When listening to the piece, the opening phrase creates a sense of uneasiness and restlessness, yet it still manages to flow without abruptly stopping. The resolutions are very delicate (in voicing and placement of beat), and there is no sense of block symmetrical sections (beginning nor ending). Instead a mood of continuous flowing simple melody is created which sets the scene for the night - like theme.
The second phrase mm 13 – 24 is similar to the previous segment except it ends on a vii diminished chord: Again for the sake of avoiding strong cadences; the voicing of the vii diminished chord and the high D confuses the listener as to whether the chord is a V or vii diminished. This uncertainty is the key characteristic of the first four 12 bar phrases. The third and fourth 12 bar units are parallel to the first and second (with rare minor ornaments), except the fourth 12 bar section ends in d minor, with 2 bar extensions (mm 49 – 50). In the Precis analysis, I indicated that as a conceptual framework, the first 50 measures can be considered as 2 giant antecedent and consequent phrases (conceptually, not harmonically or cadentially). The phrases are both parallel in their opening material but end on different cadences (the first one is PAC while the second modulates to d minor and is also a PAC in d minor).
The developmental passage carries off from the ending of section A as an extension but quickly transforms the characteristics of the wandering melody into a furious section contrasting both in dynamics and harmony. It is marked as crescendo to a sforzando, which is eventually is stabilized - subtly in a chromatic fashion - and descends to a more calming sonority of F major, announcing the arrival of the choral section marked religioso. Harmonically speaking it uses diminished chords and a sequence - like repetitions to escalate the piece to a climax that resolves chromatically in the bass leading to F major.
From a Harmonic perspective, the developmental passage is mostly in F sharp major, a distant key from g minor, and even then, it is mostly erupting over a dominant pedal with low C sharp in the bass. It is only in this passage that there is a sense of discontinuity, but from the dynamic markings and writing of the music, it is very clear that it is intended to be heard that way as a contrast of the flowing, yet restless, A section, and to set up the peaceful B section. What I find the most beautiful and striking feature of this passage, however, is the last 4 bars which only contain a lonely C sharp stripped down of all the rage preceding it. The C sharp in measure 85 – 88 is repeated aurally, but on score the very last is marked as d flat which resolves to a natural C and in a striking bold manner, the C is considered as the dominant of F major without the aid of any extra chord tones.
The Choral section is divided into two 36 bar sections, the first one being a super period, the second functions as a transition back to g minor in order to repeat the A section, as one might expect, but as mentioned before, it does not. However, conceptually it could feature as a transition back to A if this was a ternary piece.
The first section of the choral is in F major, the sonority created by the usage of pedal provides for a charming grand status of the choral reminiscent of church chorales. The accompaniment is still block chords. The super period is divided into two 8 bar segments. There is no confusion or experimentation used here as the effect achieved is different from the A section, however, in order to achieve continuity in block chords choral like writing, the strong cadence in measure 104 (the HC leading to the repetition of first 16 measures) is reduced in weight by placing the cadence on the last beat of the measure and by placing the dominant G as the top voice carried over from the previous V/V chord. This shifts the strong effect of the cadence and allows a continuous flow into the repetition. The same delicate handling of the cadences occurs when the repetition ends in an IAC and not a PAC, the third is placed on top, and the chord is also placed on the last beat of the measure.
Moving forward to the second section of the Choral passage: it states a melody in the left hand, while the melody is simple in nature and not highly ornamental, it creates a dialogue between the melody and the accompaniment that combines both elements of the night and religious notions. Thus, the dialogue is the conclusion of what comes before. The first 16 measure unit ends on a DC, the ambiguity of the V/vi results in the sense that one might expect it to be V/V in g minor. By remaining in the key of F, it allows for the repetition of the first 16 measures, except the second time, it is D major which is treated as V of g minor. However, Chopin ends the piece not in g minor, but in a Picardy third to resolve all the oddities created by what is before.
To summarize the points mentioned above, it seems that Chopin set the task for himself to compose a piece that is characteristic of the Nocturne by type but experimental by form: perhaps to expand upon the genre, what it means, and the type of composition tools that can be used to further expand his language. Chopin achieves unity in mood by constructing a restless melody figure in the A section over an unusual accompaniment for the Nocturne. The phrase structures hint at models from the past but the cadences do not follow expectations, such as the macro periods found in A section mentioned in my Precis analysis and discussed in this paper. The melodies themselves do not hint at beautiful Chopin like melodies nor do they ornament in his usual fashion. The development passage is a furious contrast to the A section with chromatic elements in F sharp major, composed mostly in its dominant C sharp. Finally, the B section is a choral passage marked religioso. By altering the weight of cadences, and using rhythm as a tool, Chopin creates a coherent work capable of containing flowing elements of the night, continuous phrase structures without a sense of harsh symmetrical units, chromatic distant modulations, and an experimental work from which he might have used elements of in consequent compositions. As a final thought, it is interesting to note that the overall Key signature scheme of the piece is g minor, F# major, and F major, which is the reverse order of the Nocturnes composed in Op 15 (no 1: F major, no 2: F#, no 3: g minor).
These are short comments I post as I navigate through waters.