Episode 141: Chopin's Last Nocturne

Nocturne in E, Op. 62, No. 2

rc-last-nocturne-200In 1853, a German pianist named Otto Dresel took a serious risk. He played Chopin's Nocturne in E for an audience in Boston.

My, how times have changed. Performing Chopin’s Nocturne in E, the second in his Opus 62 pairing was a bold move in 1853. We hear Chopin at the height of his powers; American audiences then heard dissonant decline:

“The last two nocturnes bear within themselves the traits of that forced, truly painful creativity with which Chopin composed at the close of his life,” wrote one reviewer. (Translation: “That Chopin. Bless his heart.”)

Fifty years later, Chopin biographer Frederick Niecks gave the work both barrels: “The two nocturnes, Op. 62, seem to owe their existence rather to the sweet habit of activity than to inspiration....The sentimental declarations and confused, monotonous agitation of the second...do[es] not interest me sufficiently to induce me to discuss [its] merits....”

Are you kidding me? Maybe the title got in the way. You see, Chopin had been thinking a lot about counterpoint in the months leading up to his final nocturnes. The irony! The very thing his reviewers weren’t getting was what they DID get about his earlier works—that Chopin’s music is vocally-inspired. As Chopin said it: “...each of the parts has its own movement which, while still according with the others, keeps on with its own song and follows it perfectly;" there is your counterpoint.

Superimposed voices—Chopin’s sharpest tool for conveying meaning; providing poetry. - Jennifer Foster

Radio Chopin Episode 141: Chopin's Last Nocturne

Nocturne in E, Op. 62, No. 2