There’s a really interesting moment at the end of the middle section (più lento) of Frédéric Chopin’s Nocturne, Op. 48, No. 2 when the music stops. Throughout this section (which begins around the 2:40 mark), a recitative-like conversation between two contrasting voices has been unfolding. “A tyrant commands, and the other asks for mercy” is how Chopin described it. But then, with one haunting, heart-stopping chord (You’ll hear it at 5:02 in the clip below), all of the swagger of this section disappears. For a moment, time seems frozen and there seems to be no way forward. Then, miraculously we find ourselves back in the “A” section…the music we heard at the beginning of the piece. It takes a few seconds before we realize we’ve returned.
Written in 1841, Chopin’s Op. 48, No. 2 occupies a hazy, surreal world somewhere between lamenting melancholy and sunshine. Its expansive, passionate melody is filled with restless striving. In the colorful final bars, the music finds a lasting, sunny repose.
Here is Maria João Pires’ spectacular 1996 Deutsche Grammophon recording of Chopin’s Nocturne No. 14 in F-sharp minor, Op. 48, No. 2:
Before everything else, Chopin is a poet. It’s very inner music and very deep. I don’t feel at all it’s for show. Chopin is the deep poet of music. But he also invented this terrible thing called piano recitals. That made me suffer all my life.
-Maria João Pires