Tackling Chopin’s F major Nocturne

8th August 2018 | Daily Life, Musings, Teaching | 3 comments

One of my summer projects has been to learn all the Chopin Nocturnes. Strangely enough I have never tackled them properly, and some of them, it turns out, I hardly knew even by ear. Getting to know them has given me tremendous respect for Chopin’s compositional skills as well as his genius for piano writing. Although there are so many many notes, he never seems to waste them.

Today I was studying the F major Nocturne, which I do know by ear but had never tried to learn. I got to know it as a child when the older boy who had his piano lesson before me was learning it. Every week I would go in for my lesson and listen while he received tuition on this Nocturne, which he was preparing for a competition.

I used to sit there, enjoying the music but wondering why he didn’t do this or that. For example, in the turbulent middle section in F minor the melodic theme transfers to the bass, with complicated oscillating sixths above it in the treble. Each week our teacher gently reminded him that the left-hand theme must be clearly audible above the seething sixths in the right hand, but to achieve this result was beyond the lad’s technical skill at that time. I used to listen and think, ‘Why does he not do it?’

Now, of course, decades later, I discover that it is very difficult to do! With the clatter going on in the treble, and the effort of grappling with those stormy sixths, it is hard to make the bass theme stand out so that the listener immediately notices it. I can so clearly remember feeling frustrated when my fellow student had difficulty with this passage. Now I have difficulty with it too, so I have sent my sympathies back in time.


  1. Mary Cohen

    Fascinating to speculate how Chopin himself tackled this problem!

  2. Steve L.

    This provoked a chuckle. How many times have I thought “that looks easy” only to try it and find out it’s not. Hope your fellow student’s persistence finally paid off.

  3. James

    A CD, please!


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