The pair of nocturnes contained in Frédéric Chopin's fourth published entry in the genre, Op. 32 (published in 1837 and dedicated to Mme. la Baronne de Billing) are something of a letdown after the brilliance and grace of the Op. 27 pair. Though each of the Op. 32 pieces exemplifies one of the composer's various approaches to nocturne form, the steady stream of craftsmanship that marked the previous pair of nocturnes (and also the following, Op. 37, pair) seems not so reliable here: in each of the Op. 32 nocturnes, moments of originality and power stick out in a way that they couldn't have, had the entirety of the pieces been sewn of finer silk.
Chopin composed three nocturnes in the key of B major; the Nocturne in B major, Op. 32, No. 1, is chronologically in the middle, and has found its way onto concert programs far less frequently than either of the other two. Following on the heels of the highly decorated Nocturne in D flat major, Op. 27, No. 2, this first piece in the set sings a tune of great simplicity. Decoration is kept to a minimum (for Chopin) -- the watery texture and unassuming accompaniment make this easily one of the most "Classical" works ever penned by the composer. Of interest is the way that the main theme, an exercise in modesty and sweetness, is broken off during each presentation by a sudden, unexpected silence (each time reasserting itself by means of the captivating cadence that immediately follows this unwanted intrusion). The finest detail of this small work, by far, is its unexpectedly dramatic coda. A change of both mode (from major to minor) and texture (from quiet and unassuming to stormy and recitativo) make the conclusion a complete contrast to the first two thirds of the piece. There is no last-minute reprise of the opening atmosphere: the work ends, sullenly, with a sustained B natural in the bass.
The Nocturne in A flat major, Op. 32, No. 2, would, some 70 years after its original composition, become one of the most important parts of the famous ballet Les sylphides (one of the most popular ballets in the repertoire, Les sylphides consists solely of orchestrations of Chopin's music. Indeed, the graceful triple-meter flow of the work makes it easy to see why the choreographers selected this mild work as a kind of centerpiece. The nocturne opens with a very brief (two-bar), almost rhythmless introduction (a chorale-like plagal cadence figure that also serves as the work's final gesture), after which the body of the nocturne begins. Like the previous nocturne, simplicity of gesture is of the utmost importance throughout the opening section of the A flat nocturne. A stormier, more chromatic middle section, however, marks this second nocturne as fundamentally different than the first. The ternary form (ABA) of the work demands a repetition of the earlier section; it seems, however, to have been infected by the agitated atmosphere of the nocturne's center, and it takes the reprise some time to recapture the gentleness that is its rightful tone. The opening two bars, now pianissimo, serve as a coda.