Get Nocturne essential facts below. View Videos or join the Nocturne discussion. Add Nocturne to your PopFlock.com topic list for future reference or share this resource on social media.
A nocturne (from the French which meant nocturnal, from Latin nocturnus) is usually a musical composition that is inspired by, or evocative of, the night. Historically, nocturne is a very old term applied to night Offices and, since the Middle Ages, to divisions in the canonical hour of Matins.
The name nocturne was first applied to pieces in the 18th century, when it indicated an ensemble piece in several movements, normally played for an evening party and then laid aside. Sometimes it carried the Italian equivalent, notturno, such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Notturno in D, K.286, written for four lightly echoing separated ensembles of paired horns with strings, and his Serenata Notturna, K. 239. At this time, the piece was not necessarily evocative of the night, but might merely be intended for performance at night, much like a serenade. The chief difference between the serenade and the notturno was the time of the evening at which they would typically be performed: the former around 9:00pm, the latter closer to 11:00 pm.
In its more familiar form as a single-movement character piece usually written for solo piano, the nocturne was cultivated primarily in the 19th century. The first nocturnes to be written under the specific title were by the Irish composer John Field, generally viewed as the father of the Romantic nocturne that characteristically features a cantabile melody over an arpeggiated, even guitar-like accompaniment. However, the most famous exponent of the form was Frédéric Chopin, who wrote 21 of them. One of the most famous pieces of 19th-century salon music was the "Fifth Nocturne" of Ignace Leybach, who is now otherwise mostly forgotten. Later composers to write nocturnes for the piano include Gabriel Fauré, Alexander Scriabin, Erik Satie (1919), Francis Poulenc (1929), as well as Peter Sculthorpe. In the movement entitled 'The Night's Music' ('Musiques nocturnes' in French) of Out of Doors for solo piano (1926), Béla Bartók imitated the sounds of nature. It contains quiet, eerie, blurred cluster-chords and imitations of the twittering of birds and croaking of nocturnal creatures, with lonely melodies in contrasting sections. American composer Lowell Liebermann has written eleven Nocturnes for piano, of which No.6 was arranged by the composer as Nocturne for Orchestra. Other notable nocturnes from the 20th century include those from Michael Glenn Williams, Samuel Barber and Robert Helps.
Nocturnes are generally thought of as being tranquil, often expressive and lyrical, and sometimes rather gloomy, but in practice pieces with the name nocturne have conveyed a variety of moods: the second of Debussy's orchestral Nocturnes, "Fêtes", for example, is very lively, as are parts of Karol Szymanowski's Nocturne and Tarantella (1915) and Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji's Symphonic Nocturne for Piano Alone (1977-78).
Anton Stepanovich Arensky: two nocturnes for piano, each part of a set: No. 1 from Six Pieces, Op. 5 (1884); No. 3 from Twenty-four Characteristic Pieces, Op. 36 (1894); a nocturne for two pianos, no. 8 from Variations (Suite No. 3), Op. 33
Samuel Barber: the last of Four Songs, for voice and piano, Op. 13 (1938-40) is titled "Nocturne" (to a text by Frederic Prokosch), and this song also exists in a version with orchestra; Nocturne (Homage to John Field), for piano, Op. 33 (1959)
Franz Liszt: one for solo piano entitled En reve ("In a dream" or "While dreaming"), plus his collection of three Liebesträume (Love Dreams), a series of three Notturnos, of which no.3 is the most famous, Les cloches de Genève: Nocturne (The Bells of Geneva: Nocturne) in B major
Edgard Varèse: Nocturnal, for soprano, bass, chorus, and small orchestra (text from Anaïs Nin: The House of Incest, 1961), and Nocturnal II (Nuit), for soprano, flute, oboe, clarinet, 1 or 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, percussion, and double bass (text from Anaïs Nin: The House of Incest, 1961-65)
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Three Nocturnes, for baritone, semi-chorus, and orchestra (text by Walt Whitman, 1908); "nocturne", the first of Three Poems by Walt Whitman (1925)