Nocturne in E-flat
Frédéric Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat from his set of Three Nocturnes, Op. 9, has long been a favorite of both pianists and audiences, and with good reason. The richly-ornamented melody, supported by exquisite harmonies in the left hand, perfectly captures the florid bel canto style of Italian opera, which Chopin so brilliantly adapted to the piano.
The temptation in studying a piece like this might be to dive right in and revel in all the gorgeous vocal arabesques, or fioriture, leaving the nitty-gritty work of sorting out the technical and musical details for later. But if we start instead by uncovering the basic structure of the piece, then gradually add the ornamentation back in, we can build a musical foundation that will give us the knowledge and freedom to be both secure and truly expressive in our performance.
The Overall Form
If we look at the big picture in this piece, which is 34 bars long and takes up three or four pages in most editions, we discover that there are in fact only two phrases, each four bars long, and a coda (closing section) of ten measures. The first phrase (let’s call it A) is varied three more times, and the second phrase (B) once more, creating an overall form that looks like this:
Recognizing the simplicity of this structure at the beginning of our study reassures us that perhaps there isn’t as much material to learn as we might have thought, but more importantly, it suggests a plan for our practicing.
Resources and further reading