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Frédéric Chopin

Frédéric Chopin's penultimate group of Nocturnes (only the Opus 67 pair were composed at a later date: all the posthumously published Nocturnes were actually the work of the composer's younger days), the Two Nocturnes, Op.55, have had a turbulent and often unhappy history. While most musicians of the late-Twentieth Century regarded them as two of the finest entries in the genre, during much of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century the pair was ignored by the majority of concertizing pianists. (Such sweeping changes of general opinion are often very informative: during the same Victorian period that the Opus 55 Nocturnes were in disservice the Opus 37 Nocturnes were widely considered the most masterful of the entire collection, while a hundred years later the precisely opposite view reigns). Certainly it is easy to understand the professional neglect heaped on the Nocturne in F minor, Op.55, No.1, which, due to its relative technical ease, has become the property of amateurs and students around the globe. The E-flat Nocturne, Op.55, No.2, however, is a work of extraordinary power and a testament to both the masterly command of Chopin's later years and the distance he has traveled since the Fieldian Nocturnes of his Opus 9. The Nocturne in E-flat major, Op.55, No.2, however, is a different matter altogether. Few pieces are less suitable for such an instructive purpose as that described above, and yet few are so eminently rewarding a musical experience. Here there is no discreet, sectional form, but rather a continuously developing melodic strand. If this causes a certain brand of monotony, then it is the same brand of monotony that one's own inner stream of consciousness can, at times, engender. It is as if the composer has abandoned all the external trappings of Nocturne "form" in order to place a greater emphasis on the essence of the genre's sentiment. The interested student of Chopin would do well to make a careful comparison of this work with the more famous E flat Nocturne (Op.9, No.2): the contrast is striking, and the greater skill of the later work cannot be overstated. A worthy coda (containing, around twelve bars from the end, a modulation of the finest and most expressive kind) serves as a conclusion to this unique work.