Frédéric Chopin

Nocturnes (2) for piano, Op. 55, CT. 122-123

    Description by Blair Johnston

    The two noctures of Op. 55 were Frédéric Chopin's penultimate group of nocturnes (only the Op. 67 pair were composed at a later date; all the posthumously published nocturnes actually came from the composer's younger days). The two pieces have had a turbulent and often unhappy history. While most musicians of the late twentieth century regarded them as two of the finest entries in the genre, during much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the pair was ignored by the majority of concertizing pianists. Certainly it is easy to understand the professional neglect heaped on the Nocturne in F minor, Op. 55/1, which, due to its relative technical ease, has become the property of amateurs and students around the globe. The E flat Nocturne, Op. 55/2, however, is a work of extraordinary power and a testament to both the masterly command of Chopin's later years and the distance he had traveled since the Fieldian nocturnes of his Op. 9.

    The primary melody of the Nocturne in F minor, Op. 55/ 1, has a bittersweet tang. The piece as a whole is cast in the characteristic (ABA) ternary form, with a dramatic and anxious middle section. An exciting stretto passage leads directly into the reprise of the opening theme, which has itself assimilated something of the second subject's agitation. A welcome harmonic change (from the minor to the major mode) as the coda progresses, and a trio of arpeggiated chords make a firm conclusion. This nocturne, though clearly less inspired than some of its brothers and sisters, makes an effective entry-level piece for those players and listeners seeking a clear glimpse of the composer's basic style.

    The Nocturne in E flat major, Op. 55/2, however, is a different matter altogether. Few pieces are less suitable for such an instructive purpose as that described above, and yet few are so eminently rewarding as a musical experience. Here there is no discrete sectional form, but rather a continuously developing melodic strand. If this causes a certain monotony, then it is the same brand of monotony that one's own inner stream of consciousness can, at times, engender. It is as if the composer has abandoned all the external trappings of nocturne "form" in order to place a greater emphasis on the essence of the genre's sentiment. The interested student of Chopin would do well to make a careful comparison of this work with the more famous E flat Nocturne, Op. 9/2: the contrast is striking, and the greater skill of the later work cannot be overstated. A worthy coda (containing, around 12 bars from the end, a modulation of the finest and most expressive kind) serves as a conclusion to this unique work.

    Parts/Movements

    1. No. 15 in F minor
    2. No. 16 in E flat major

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 4795448
    2015 Thorofon
    2015 Zephyr / Zephyr Z 14615
    2014 Diversions / Divine Art DDV 24160
    2014 RCA Red Seal 88843003502
    2013 MDG MDGSC 9471818
    2013 MDG
    2013 Warner Classics
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099970490
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099967873
    2012 EMI Classics
    2012 Apex
    2012 Warner Classics/WM France
    2011 RCA Red Seal 886919369120
    2011 Deutsche Grammophon 4779908
    2011 Pavane ADW 75323
    2010 Cascavelle 3141
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon 002894778445
    2010 Oehms Classics 779
    2010 Calliope 3351
    2010 Sony Classical 88697690412
    2010 Zig Zag Territoires 1002032
    2010 Harmonia Mundi 50143031
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon 4775718
    2010 EMI Classics
    2010 Warner Classics
    2010 RCA Red Seal / Sony Classical 88697704062
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099945535
    2010 Decca 4782282
    2010 Decca 478 218-2
    2010 Decca 14053
    2010 Genuin 10190
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon 4778167
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon
    2009 Sony BMG / Sony Classical 88697577072
    2009 Dux Records 650
    2008 Bridge 9276
    2008 Decca 001212402
    2008 Brilliant Classics 93217
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099950966
    2008 EMI Classics
    2008 Arte Nova 636380
    2008 Arte Nova Classics 304941
    2008 Hyperion 44351
    2007 Brilliant Classics 93529
    2007 London Independent 70013
    2007 Apex 4643742
    2006 Deutsche Grammophon 000580402
    2006 Brilliant 99802
    2005 Harmonia Mundi 2901430/31
    2005 Deutsche Grammophon 002894775242
    2004 Cascavelle 3064
    2004 Hyperion CDA67371/2
    2004 Hyperion SACDA67371/2
    2004 Alba 190
    2004 Prima Music Productio 615545
    2004 ASV 781
    2004 ASV 258
    2004 Deutsche Grammophon 000344902
    2003 Forlane 126817
    2003 EMI Classics
    2003 Sony Music Distribution 90426
    2002 APR (Appian) 5571
    2002 Urtext 48
    2002 Deutsche Grammophon 469350
    2002 Camerata Records 20CM634/5
    2002 Dutton Laboratories 9715
    2001 One-Eleven 9010
    2001 Classica d'Oro 3011
    2001 Aura Classics 0230
    2001 Rca Red Seal 63026
    2001 Rca Red Seal 63005
    2000 EMI Music Distribution 73830
    2000 Rca Red Seal 63049
    1999 Deutsche Grammophon 463 047-2GCE17
    1999 Naxos 501501
    1999 Naxos 554532
    1999 Calliope 9281/2
    1999 Agora Musica 232
    1999 Deutsche Grammophon 463 057-2
    1999 RCA Red Seal 63000
    1998 The Radio Years 101
    1998 Hyperion CDD22013
    1998 Koch Schwann 365002
    1998 Arte Nova 74321 54451-2
    1997 Teldec 18949
    1997 Concord 42044
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 453 022-2GTA2
    1997 Harmonia Mundi 7901431
    1997 London 452579
    1997 Philips 456336
    1997 London 443738
    1996 Deutsche Grammophon 447096
    1995 Madacy 5642
    1995 Vox 5146
    1995 Arabesque 6653
    1995 London
    1995 Vox 3501
    1994 Philips 442266
    1994 Naxos 550357
    1994 Madacy 5466
    1993 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 0777764933
    1993 Sony Music Distribution 53249
    1993 Harmonia Mundi 901430
    1993 Olympia (Classical/Jazz) 254
    1992 Teldec 72297
    1992 EMI Music Distribution 64491
    1992 Madacy 56422
    1991 Elektra 79233
    1991 RCA Victor GD60822
    1990 Hyperion 66341/2
    1988 Deutsche Grammophon 423916
    1986 Philips 416 440-2PH2
    Iron Needle 1345
    The Piano Library 197
    Philips 468391
    EMI Music Distribution 55073
    Denon Records 18074
    Connoisseur Society CD4211
    Dux 647
    Forlane 16813
    London 414564
    Sony Music Entertainment 89687
    RCA 5613
    Analekta 7701
    Brilliant 99802/5
    Ricercar 145143
    EMI Music Distribution 74457
    EMI Music Distribution 74457
    Selene 930178
    Philips 464694
    One-Eleven 90010
    Grammofono 2000 78554
    RCA Victor 60822
    Grammofono 2000 78654
    Canyon Classics 3642
    Decca 4758046
    Deutsche Grammophon 4776607