[University of Michigan, 2007]
Music in the Romantic Era strived to convey inner expression. Frederic Chopin’s “Nocturne in F sharp, Opus 15. No 2” exemplifies music from the Romantic Era in many ways. Starting with the title itself: “Nocturne” means “night,” and the Romantics aimed to invoke nature to reflect human emotions. The piece is a set of 21 nocturnes, each featuring a different tune. Individualism was another important aspect of the Romantics; each composer had his or her own personal style. This is somewhat reflected in the individual tunes of each of Chopin’s nocturnes; the ideal of the individual was very important in the Romantic Era.
The melody of this particular nocturne, however, has a liquid, somewhat airy quality to it. Romantic melody is often generalized as being fluid, effusive, and demonstrative, and the melody is this nocturne is all of those things. The melody’s liquidness also attributes to its suggestive quality; it proposes a melody instead of outright stating it, which a composition in the Baroque Era would have done. The melody is extremely emotional, and emotional expression was extremely important during this time period. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was the leader of this movement, encouraging composers and artists to create works of art based on natural, human feelings, and to go beyond the artificial constraints that society had placed on society, as reflected by the music in the Baroque Era.
This emotion was expressed in Romantic music, despite convention and religion. The Enlightenment took place during the Romantic Era, as well as the Industrial Revolution. People felt helpless due to the poor conditions in factories, slag heaps, and the inhumane conditions. Romantic composers sought to express this emotion through music, rebelling against society and breaking boundaries of harmony and form.
Chopin’s Nocturne is a solo piece of the piano. The piano was a very important instrument during the Romantic Era; the public concert was becoming more important and the opera house was beginning to dominate. “Domestic” genres, such as piano miniatures, nocturnes, and etudes, were now suitable for performance in public concerts. Miniature compositions gained importance, and the Nocturne in F# is a miniature that represents the rise in popularity of this genre.
The rhythm of the Nocturne is also representative of the Romantic Era style of music. The meter is treated more freely, in a rubato style, as was common in the Romantic Era. The rhythm is more flexible, relaxed, and spontaneous.
The Nocturne also uses the chromatic scale very freely. Composers in the Romantic Era often experimented with harmony (in rebellion against convention and as experimental means), and chromaticism was very common during this time.
Another notable feature of the nocturne is that it avoids the distinction of having a clear form. Romanticism was very much about feeling, not about form. Forms were often free, to emphasize the emotional quality. Classical Era compositions featured clearly marked varieties and dynamic, and repetitions on the whole, with numerous cadences. Romantic music, however, diverted clearly marked varieties and dynamics, to keep the listener surprised. The Classical Era saw pleasing, singable melodies, and the Romantic Era sees experimentalist melodies, harmonies, and tone colors. Repetitions were avoided as part of the goal to achieve free forms, and deceptive cadences and unpredictable harmonies were all a way to keep the listener on their toes.
The melody in the nocturne in F# grows spontaneously and in an improvising manner. While improvisation was generally abolished in the Romantic Era, it wasn’t until the late 1800s that it really disappeared; this nocturne was composed in 1831. This nocturne also features a climax, which was also characteristic of the Romantic Era.
The main tune of the nocturne seems to be never-ending. This may be a precursor to Wagner’s “endless melody” idea developed later in the ear. Romantic melody also developed a wider range, as demonstrated in the nocturne
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