In Nocturne in D flat Major, Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) creates a complex work that consists of complicated harmonies and rhythmic motives. These two components are interwoven to build elaborate themes which lead to a melodic design that Chopin is known for. The piece has multiple key elements that combine to form this expressive work for piano, such as thematic growth. Various themes are introduced in the work and as Chopin develops them, they are barely recognizable.
Other important elements in the creation of the nocturne are register and pitch. Register provides support for the harmonies which in turn serve as the foundation on which the piece is built. Chopin begins his Nocturne in D Flat Major with a simple arpeggiated sixteenth note pattern in the bass voice. Figure 1. 1 This pattern is non-motivic due to the nature in which it provides stability for the melody above it, but it can still be labeled as a key theme in the piece because of how Chopin transforms it throughout the work.
In measures 1 through 4, the pattern is used to reinforce the presence in D flat major by arpeggiating the tonic triad. This pattern begins to evolve first in measure 5 when it outlines an A diminished 7 chord, the first chord not diatonic to the key of D flat major. From measure 5 on, the pattern travels through various tonalities. Though the pattern is transformed harmonically, Chopin never alters its’ rhythm of six sixteenth notes. It is rhythmically identical each time it occurs, which is every measure aside from the ultimate one. pic] The first theme, which consists of smaller motives within itself, begins in m. 2and ends in m. 9. This theme (theme I) begins on F5 and also ends on F5. It outlines the tonic triad with likewise tonic support in the bass voice. Theme I is reiterated on multiple occasions throughout the piece and when it first appears, it is a single melodic line with only the bass voice underneath, but as the piece develops, so does the theme. Theme I is the first indication that, at measure twenty six, the piece returns to A, thus A’.
The opening measure of the piece is not included in the reiteration of the theme at A’ which alludes that the first measure is not a part of the main theme. The first five measures of A’ are exactly identical to A but in the sixth measure Chopin adds rhythmic and harmonic diminution on the second beat and continues to alter the initial theme in the same fashion throughout the next two measures as well. He adds a sextuplet in the first half of measure thirty two and follows it with an arpeggiated figure that is completely based upon the melody in measure seven.
The eighth measure of A’ contains the same pitch classes as the eighth measure of A only with the addition of a doubling of the soprano voice a M6 above the initial melody. It is important to note that the bass voice is identical the first two times the theme is heard, which indicates that the harmonic structure is not altered. Chopin develops the theme only with rhythmic embellishments and non-chord tones. This theme returns again at m. 46 but is preceded this time by six measures of prolonged dominant to tonic motion. Mm. 0-45 consist of chromatic voice leading from G# (en. Ab) until the piece finally arrives on Db on the downbeat of m. 46 with the return of A. The prolongation of the V-I motion reinforces the significance of the reoccurrence of the theme, but if that is not enough, Chopin also raises the dynamic level to fortississimo and shifts the register of the bass voice down to Db0 to create more stability for the theme. At m. 10, theme I ends and theme II begins, simultaneously marking the end of section A and the beginning of B.
Some would argue that this is not a theme at all because it does not have a clear ending point any of the times that it occurs, but I disagree. Though it is lacking in a distinct ending, it has a distinct beginning and it is modified throughout the piece, representing thematic growth. When theme II reappears at m. 50 Theme I contains multiple motives within it that Chopin chooses to elaborate on or embellish throughout the piece. The first motive begins on beat 2 of the second measure.
Motive I can be classified as a rhythmic motive, not a melodic one, because in terms of melody it changes pitch each time it occurs but the rhythm largely remains the same. The first time it occurs, it is introduced as part of a monophonic soprano texture but when it occurs next at measure ten, it switches to a homophonic texture consisting of parallel thirds. Next, Chopin varies the rhythm to evolve the motive by adding a sixteenth note triplet on beat three, as in measure 10 or ???. This otive helps signify the return of the main theme of the piece, such as at measures twenty six and forty six. Motive I is an important aspect of the piece in that is present in both themes A and B as well as in every section of the form, yet it is different in each section so that the listener can delineate between the phrases. Register plays a very important role in the piece. Chopin begins the melody on F5 which functions as the third of the tonic triad. This pitch is important throughout the piece because the primary melodic register is between D flat 5 and F5.
The primary melodic register is supported by a primary bass register of D flat 3 to D flat 4. He only varies from that register when he wishes to provide extra support for the tonic chord, as demonstrated in m. 1. To ensure that the tonalities in the bass voice project from within the other harmonies, he increases the size of the interval between the first and second bass pitches in each measure. Generally the interval between those notes is approximately that of a 10th but, in measure one he increases it to two octaves and a 3rd (a 17th).
These vast intervals occur at the beginnings and ends of phrases, such as at m. 26 with the return of A and again in the final 6 measures of the piece. Chopin also ventures into extreme registers in the melodic line. On the last beat of m. 7 leading into the downbeat of m. 8 the register shifts from G flat 5 to G flat 6. The register shift at m. 8 draws attention to the high G flat 6, which brings up the discussion of pitch. As with any work, all pitches are vital to the function of the piece, but some pitches are more important than others, such as the G flat 6 in m. 8.
It emerges as the root of a G flat diminished triad that is followed but does not necessarily resolve to a G natural in the context of an E natural fully diminished 7. G flat, the subdominant, acts as a pedal point that implies a fa to mi relationship, though the pitch class F (mi) does not occur until the 4th beat of m. 9. Another featured pitch is A natural Figure 1. 2 which first appears in the melodic line in m. 5. The pitch A natural does not make harmonic sense in terms of the key of D flat major, but, it resolves to B flat 4, which indicates an implied raised V to vi motion.
When A returns at m. 26, Chopin employs the same raised V to vi motion in the fourth measure of A’ and again at m. 44. This implied leading tone motion in the midst of otherwise stable chords creates the momentary instability that propels the piece forward. [pic] In the passage between mm. 40 and 46 pitch, register, and harmony all combine to create a complex phrase. M. 40 begins on an enharmonic V7 chord, which would normally be essential in establishing tonality of the tonic but the dominant is not immediately resolved.
Beginning with G#1, Chopin uses remarkable voice leading upwards toward the tonic in each measure to prolong the resolution of the dominant 7. Eventually, the chromatic leading arrives at D flat, the tonic chord, at m. 46. This passage begins in the primary register of both the bass and melodic voices but quickly shifts to a lower octave (G#0) in the bass voice. From mm. 40-46 Chopin switches between these two bass registers with the upper register on beat 1 and the lower register on beat 4 of each measure.