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Chopin's C Minor Nocturne Op.48 Analysis


Robert McGowan

The Nocturn is an artform that has a very significant tie to Chopin and is one of the most

iconic musical ‘feel’ of the romantic era. In his C Minor Nocturne, Chopin manages to create a

vivid narrative structure to this piece despite the absence of a vocalist to ground the plot, or

program notes to guide the listener. In the first measure, the musical gambit is introduced which

sets the rhythmic template for the entirety of the first A section. The characteristic of this A

section (m. 1-23) is a distinctive bass pattern that is reminiscent of a slow ‘ragtime’ number

where the left hand grabs a low octave and completes the chord a register above. The use of

delayed ornamentations and ties over both weak and strong beats gives this music a very low-

viscus and waning feel. Measure 20 gives us a small taste of chromaticism which up until this

point was absent. This is perhaps foreshadowing the territories that the subsequent section will

take us.

A chromatic decent in thirds leads us to the B section which modulates to the parallel

major. The rhythm here abandons the ‘slow ragtime’ feel in the bass for a more homorhythm,

choral feel. The harmony is strictly diatonic here and as the voices make their way up,

arpeggiations of the chords are splashed in to prepare us for a busier rhythmic landscape. The

restatement on measure 39 introduces a disruptive triplet 32nd rhythm to this otherwise tranquil

progression. Here, we can see the antagonistic element introduced in the music’s narrative. The

struggle here is a return to the simpler rhythms that opened each section thus far. This struggle

continues until measure 45 where a hiccup in the chromatic ascension causes the music to be

overtaken by this new chromatic material.


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After a fall from the triplet voices, the music rises again and returns to the A section.

Here, the expected bass pattern from the opening A section is replaced by a 16th note triplet feel.

This is an artifact left over from the B section’s antagonistic interjections. We can see that this

motive has integrated itself so firmly into the accompanying voice yet it does not touch the

lyrical top voice. This sets the music against itself in a 4 against 3(or 4 against 12) rhythm. This

further challenges the fluidity that characterizes the opening A section. The restatement of the

opening material in its relative major is repeated and developed (m. 66) which ends the music

back in C minor.