Nocturn Op. 48: The First Four Measures

How to Play According to Chopin

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The writer and musician Wilhelm von Lenz, who had the opportunity to study the piano with Chopin, Liszt and other famous names, wrote about his experiences in detail in his publication "The Great Piano Virtuosos".

The most striking of these are the lecture anecdotes he gave to the famous piano virtuoso Carl Tausig about Chopin's works. 

Chopin's glorious Op. It is quite remarkable that the full-page conversation he had with Tausig about the 48/1 C minor Nocturn concerned only the first four measures of the piece. 

Lenz's failure to satisfy the famous composer in the first four measures of the piece, Chopin's warnings and the dynamics pushing the limits almost gives the impression that the first four measures of the piece are studied rather than the whole piece.

So what were the nuances that made it difficult to execute these four measures? Which recordings were made today taking into account the wishes of the famous composer?

Let's listen to Lenz first:

It was very difficult to please Chopin in the performance of those first four measures, which seemed so easy, in the opening of the magnificent C minor Nocturn (Op.48/1). In the second measure, there are hexadecimal notes of re, mi flat, fa and sol. The important point here was to shift from the left note to the note do written at the beginning of the third bar. Chopin would never be satisfied with this. He said to me, "You can do this, so do it." After a while I was able to please him, but throughout the time, either the left note was too short and the do was heard too early, or vice versa. “There is a meaning in it,” Chopin used to say. The same difficulty arose when I dropped the last note of the fourth bar, the sixteenth C (before the eighth silence). The last sound, Do, was either too long or too short. I developed my own method. I slid my finger down to the end of the key and dropped it from the corner; in this way I succeeded in pleasing Chopin. But when he played himself, even the best result I got with the effort I put above was overshadowed. For Chopin, Sol, the last note of the second measure, was a question, and the first note of the third measure, Do, was the answer. The same problems exist in the first measure; The stanza Left and La flat had to be featured, it had to be thematic, but according to him, I played either too softly or too hard.

The Great Piano Virtuosos of Our Time, Wilhelm von Lenz, G. Schirme, 1899, p. 87.

Now let's mark what is written on the notation of the first four measures:

A: Left and A flat will be highlighted, but too soft or hard emphasis will be avoided.

B: There will be a transition from Left to Do at the right time. A question will be asked with Left and an answer will be given with Do.

C: The note will be released at the right time. It will not be played too short or long.

It seems that working on your own Nocturnes with Chopin has its advantages as well as disadvantages. Lenz went through a difficult process, but left invaluable information today. Let's see which pianists have this knowledge and have performed the piece exactly in accordance with the patterns Chopin wanted. Our grading scale:

5 – Very good | 4 – Good | 3 – Medium | 2 – Didn't happen | 1 – bad

AlbumABC
M. Pollini, 2005, Deutsche Grammophon4
Beautiful
2
Interpreted as a single sentence.
1
The pedal is held long, both Mi and Do overlap.
F. Say, 2018, Ada Music 1
not even heard
2
Crescendo?
2
Notes are distinguishable, but pedal?
A. Rubinstein, 1965, Sony 5
Half pedal flavor
2
Interpreted as a single sentence. No questions or answers.
5
Pedal time is great, the notes are with you. Neither long nor short.
B. Engerer, 2010, Harmonia Mundi 3
Yes in the foreground but too much forte
3
Almost
3
Notes are distinguishable but pedal is pressed without the Do sound disappearing
D. Barenboim, 1982, Deutsche Grammophon 4
Beautiful
3
Almost
2
Pedal ok but Do stay long
I. Fliter, 2018, Linn Records 4
Beautiful
2
Crescendo?
3
bass swallowed
Y. Lee, 2010, Warner Classics 3
A little too much forte
3
Almost
2
long pedall
M. Pires, 1996, Deutsche Grammophon 4
Beautiful
3
Crescendo although
3
bass swallowed
NS. Biret, 2007, Naxos 2
Same volume as bass. Not in the foreground.
3
No question no answer
3
One sentence stolen
J. Lisiecki, 2021, Deutsche Grammophon 3
Not prominent enough
3
No question no answer
2
Passed too fast
N. Freire, 2010, Decca 4
Beautiful
3
a quick question
3
One sentence stolen
V. Ashkenazy, 1997, Decca 4
Beautiful
5
Yeah !
5
Yeah !
E. Leonskaja, 1992, Warner 2
More forte
3
Crescendo although
1
Pedal that cuts uncontrollably with Do
N. Lugansky, 2002, Warner 4
Beautiful
3
narrowly
3
One sentence stolen
C. Arrau, 1978, Universal 4
Beautiful
4
Crescendo although
3
The sentence is correct, the note is long
S. Francois, 2002, EMI 3
A bit fast
3
Crescendo although
2
Passed too fast

For those who are curious, the finger numbers that Chopin had his students noted:

Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger, Chopin: Pianist and Teacher: As Seen by His Pupils, Cambridge University Press, 1986, pp.264

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