Chopin, the introvert composer who recoiled from public appearances, wrote mostly small pieces that turned out to have an out-sized influence on the Romantic century and beyond. He knew how to small things loom large.
Frederick Chopin (1810-1849) was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1810. His mother was Polish and his father, French-born. From a young age, Chopin was marked for a brilliant music career, having started piano lessons at six, made his public debut at eight, and performed before the tsar of Russia at eleven. By the time he entered the Warsaw Conservatory at sixteen, he was writing little piano pieces, many of them based on Polish dances: polonaise, mazurka, and the like plus variations, rondos, and other traditional forms. He would write the same kinds of pieces for the rest of his life, exploring each of them with mounting originality and ambition. While he did not invent new forms, he expanded what existed, drawing inspiration from Bach, Mozart, and Italian opera. In a century of outsized ambition, his music was a victory of imagination and elegance over grandiloquence. Nowhere is this more evident than in his nocturnes (night pieces), almost all of which last less then ten minutes.
Featured below are four nocturnes by Chopin that exemplify the composer’s mastery of the dreamy keyboard tracery:
Nocturne B. 108 in C Minor
Nocturne in C-sharp Minor
Nocturne in D-flat Major
Nocturne in E-flat Major