While Chopin may be the master of the nocturne, he certainly wasn’t the only composer to turn his hand to creating music in this beautiful and haunting style. The following 5 pieces will give you a glimpse of the works of some of the composers who created this captivating music inspired by the night.
John Field (Nocturne No. 10 in E Minor)
Let’s begin our tour with the Irish composer John Field. ‘Irish, you say? Surely you’re not telling me the nocturne has anything to do with an Irishman?’ Well, surely I am. Field was the father of the romantic nocturne, the first to call his pieces by that name and a great influence on Chopin himself. Check out the similarities in the video below:
Frédéric Chopin (Nocturne D Flat Major, Op. 27)
Chopin’s nocturnes need no introduction. 21 he wrote for solo piano. 21 rich, melancholy, beautiful, emotion-filled gems that are more popular today than ever before. Far more popular than during his own times, where the composer was largely ignored and dismissed as a salon musician. Talk about not appreciating what you have until it’s gone… pffft.
Alexander Scriabin (Nocturne in A Flat Major)
Our next stop on the tour visits 19th Century Russia and a 12 year old Alexander Scriabin. What were you doing at 12 years old? I may have been playing with Star Wars figures, struggling with my first steps on the guitar or pulling my hair out trying to remember the periodic table. I certainly wasn’t composing a nocturne like this. Kind of sickening really:
Francis Poulenc (Nocturne No. 1 in C Major)
Now firmly in the 20th century, Francis Poulenc is the next composer on our list. A member of ‘Les Six’ as they were coined, Poulenc composed music for solo piano, chamber music, oratorio, choral music, opera, ballet and orchestral music. His 1st of 8 nocturnes is a shimmering piece that beautifully channels the inspirations of the nocturne’s wonderful history:
Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji (Gulistän – Nocturne for Piano)
And so we come to the end of our (less than comprehensive) tour, leaving you with a nocturne from the curmudgeonly, Essex-born hermit Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji… or Leon Dudley, or one of the many other names that the English composer and writer dabbled with over the years. If you know nothing about Sorabji, I would highly recommend listening to one of his few interviews on YouTube. He brings new meaning to the title ‘grumpy old man’, but, depending on who you listen to, was one of the most important composers of the 20th century. Not that he cared… or would even let you through the door to tell him that.
So ends our whistle-stop tour of the nocturne. Of course we’ve missed far more than an acceptable number of composers who wrote in the style, from Liszt to Schumann, through to Debussy, Satie and Liebermann. But, from its Irish roots to our current-day love affair, the nocturne remains one of the most beautiful expressions of music available to man today.