How to Play Chopin Nocturne in D flat opus 27 no 2

15 February 2012
imports_PIA_0-iauggktw-100000_87266.jpg How to Play Chopin Nocturne in D flat opus 27 no 2
Finding a flowing tempo and thinking melodically will help you capture the essence of this evocative night music. Concert pianist and teacher Lucy Parham (pictured) talks you through the piece - which appears inside <em>Pianist</em> issue 64 - bar by bar ...
Ability level rating

Key D flat major
Tempo Lento sostenuto
Style Romantic
Will improve your
Overlapping legato
Balance between hands
Rubato technique
Of all the works associated with Chopin and his genius, the nocturnes, for me, are at the top of the list. Somehow no one before or since him has captured that elusive essence of the mysteries of night with such hypnotic lyricism.
How best to approach a piece like this? Firstly, the technique here is not technique in the virtuosic sense. This is the technique of control, of balance, of voicing and perhaps most importantly, of real overlapping legato. And there are some very tricky passages, too. There’s the eternal question of rubato and how best to achieve that – so there’s a lot to think about!
Where better to start than the left hand (LH)? I’d recommend trying to master the LH part before you even attempt to add the right hand (RH). And because of the frequent stretches down to lower bass notes, the better you know it, the easier it’ll be in the long run. Then there’s the complex issue of tempo. I like to keep it flowing. There are many recorded versions of this piece with various tempos  –therefore it’s all personal taste. You don’t want anything that doesn’t flow and evolve. Line and shape are critical.
When the right hand enters in bar 2 I begin with a third finger and then substitute it with the fifth finger, as it’s hard to get control of the fifth finger on the very first note. As this opening melody is stated three times, think about projecting each one in a different way. Chopin marks it ‘dolce’, so aim for a mezzo piano sound on this first statement, always listening as hard as you can to your sound. Does it bump? Is it beautiful? The first phrase is heading towards the A natural in bar 5, so the make sure to match the B flat resolution in bar 6. This is mirrored in the LH by an A natural (the third semiquaver in bar 5) and B flat (third semiquaver in bar 6), so try to point these out gently. Use the final RH G flat of bar 7 as a springboard to get ‘over’ the bar line onto the first beat of bar 8. I play the grace note on the beat (i.e. with the LH), although it’s also fine before the beat [on the CD, our pianist Chenyin Li starts a bit earlier]. With the subsequent figure of five floating descending quavers, don’t start to play them until the left hand has played the fifth semiquaver (D flat) and then just ease gently into the next beat, and do the same with the RH demisemiquavers in bar 9. Always aim to think melodically. Think ‘how would I sing it?’ If you can’t sing the ornaments as fast as you’re playing them, then you’re too fast!
There is a moment of pure magic when the key turns into the relative minor in bar 10. Sink into the bass here to make a cushion of sound for the RH. This ‘espressivo’ passage is the first time we have the RH duet. Always give as much weight to the lower part, as it often gets overlooked. Imagine two violins playing this and keep the long line flowing from bar 10 right up until the E flat minor section in bar 14. [Continued.]

To read Parham's full article, order Pianist 64 today. You will find a selection of 'How to Plays' inside every issue of Pianist magazine, for beginner to advanced pianists.

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