Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Tips to play Chopin's Nocturne in C Minor Opus 48 #1

Following my blog on the 13th January 2011:  Lost and Found Chopin Nocturne Youtube Tutorials - Cm C#mI want to offer further insight into the Chopin Nocturne in C Minor, Opus 48 #1.

A postgraduate at the Royal College of Music studying his Masters in Music in piano performance who has performed the Chopin Sonatas has indicated to me that this nocturne is one of the most difficult Chopin pieces he's seen, "monstrously difficult". The level of this piece is LTCL - or licentiate of the Trinity College of Music performance level. This equates to the final year of an undergraduate performance at a music conservatoire. Wikipedia has a wonderful overview of the Nocturne in C Minor, Opus 48 (numbers 1 and 2), and a great introduction to the structure of the piece. And from the article we learn that the piece is in ternary form, A-B-A. 
  1. A Lento 
  2. B Piu Lento - (Chorale)
  3. A Doppio movimiento
This is a piece with great technical difficulty that it's beneficial to observe a pianist performing it on Youtube. Firstly you can observe on Youtube Jane perform the piece very slowly to observe her finger and hand movements.
Here's Valentina Lisitia performing the piece on Youtube. Time indices: A: (0:00 - 2:09) B: (2:10 - 4:12) A:(4:13 to End)

A - Lento Opening Tips 
  • Understand the harmonic structure by playing the chords by themselves
  • Connect using the pedal the semiquaver bass progressions to the quaver (pedal once more)
  • Grace notes and ornaments - play these melodically (not strict time as in the classical style) and alter the expression everytime. 
B Piu - Lento Chorale 
  • Use the soft pedal 
  • The top line must be heard and played legato
  • left hand spread chords - experiment but here are some ideas -  (i.e.) G-D-B- you can either break up the chord into two positions (fingers: 5, break hand then both 2nd and 1st finger). C-G-E-G (fingers: 5-2-1-2)
  • Connect the top note of the right hand to achieve a legato effect.
Valentina Igoshina performing the Nocturne in C Minor Opus 48 #1.

A Doppio movimiento
I found this section by far the most difficult section of the nocturne.
  • You must have in mind the first A section and how clear the melody was. 
  • You are trying to recreate this clarity with the added complexity of chords in the right hand. To achieve this, play deep into the key with the chords whilst keeping the hand supple to keep the accompanying chords softer, keep the top 5th finger strong so that the melody line can be heard above.
  • Watch out for the quick sudden crescendos that occur in one bar, make sure you play this as if you're singing it, not like a sudden massive increase of volume.


  1. Amazing tips. As someone currently working on this piece, I can attest to its monstrous difficulty. Anyway, other then phrasing the first section of this piece, I really didn't have any problems with the A or B sections of this piece. The problem comes with the a doppio movimiento section. It's truly the most technically difficult portion of this piece, it is extremely hard to deliver clearly.

  2. Hi Addison, glad you found it useful! I performed it recently on a Fazioli - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gPOo4NmOxw still working on it though!

  3. Thanks for the tips! I must say that I've been going at this (amazingly beautiful) piece time and again, on and off, and couldn't really master the third section. First, it's good to know that I'm not alone in this :) Second, I'm going to try again, this time implementing the tips written here. I only wish my fingers were as long as Valentina Lisitia's ... :)

    If you have more tips - I'd love to hear them!