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Playlist: Radio Chopin

Compiled By: benjamin roe

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Radio Chopin 5: The Inspired Simplicity of Utterance

From WDAV Classical Public Radio | 02:01

"The piece certainly was not well received early on. Early commentators had little use for it. I think it’s just a case of Chopin in his later years being ahead of his audience, just as Beethoven had been; just as Debussy would be in the early twentieth century.”

--Pianist and Brevard Music Center Dean, Bruce Murray on Chopin's Nocturne in B, Op. 62. No. 1

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"There seems to be a consensus of Opinion amongst the critics that these two last Nocturnes of Chopin's are lacking in spontaneity, and reflect to a certain extent the ravages that illness had made upon his constitution."

That century-old "consensus," taken from the pages of G.C. Ashton Jonson's 1905 Handbook to Chopin's Works, ("For the use of Concert-Goers, Pianists, and Pianola Players"), has unfairly tagged one of Chopin's greatest works, argues pianist and Brevard Music Center Dean Bruce Murray.

"I find the early dissing of this piece hard to fathom, except that it is more subtle and elusive than almost any other Chopin nocturne," argues Murray. "Perhaps it was too far out front of Chopin's early biographers.  On the other hand, the authors of the Chopin entry in the definitive New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians call Op. 62 'the pinnacle of Chopin's achievement in the genre....the inspired simplicity of utterance.' The second of the two Nocturnes seems to be known better than thefirst, and I can attest that it is played fairly regularly by advanced students.  But the B major Nocturne remains strangely underplayed and almost unknown.  Though it did appear on Van Cliburn's best-selling 1961 album My Favorite Chopin, on which it was surely the most obscure piece.

"For me, the piece is just a melody with accompaniment, a format recalling the earliest nocturnes of Op. 9 but now deployed with the most refined phrase structure imaginable--it could not have happened earlier in Chopin's career.  The melody itself seems to bear some spiritual
connection to the 'Polish' melody of the gorgeous E major Etude, Op. 10, No. 3, as well as the Polish Christmas song quoted in the B minor scherzo.  For Chopin, did 'Polish melody' mean 'a lot of sharps?'  I don't know."