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Chopin Nocturne 15.3

One of the most fundamental, most important principles in music is return: when things happen, they come back. Throughout a piece of music, there are recurring elements that unite the whole. The beginning and the end connect. If we depart from where we started, we return there — or at least look back.

The familiar verse / chorus / bridge form that underlies so many pop songs follows this principle: we might get a new melody, the bridge (“Why she had to leave, I don’t know”), but we still come back to the original repeating verse / chorus music (“Yesterday…”). Many, many classical pieces (especially Chopin nocturnes) follow ternary or “ABA” form: thing 1, thing 2, thing 1 again. That includes many of the pieces I’ve posted in this blog. Even in a less clearly delineated structure, you’ll hear the principle of return: listen to Bach letting new material unfold continuously so that same initial idea keeps resurfacing in new forms, or Brahms letting several distinct ideas mingle and interact with one another.

Return can be the operating principle even when it’s not immediately obvious: the three parts of Three Places are all built out of the same material, and the melody that was floating on top of a thick swirl of sound at the beginning comes back at the very end, transformed (the swirl is gone, and it’s bare now) but still present. The point is: look for return, and you’ll find it.

Then we have today’s piece by Chopin. Everything in it happens twice … and then never comes back. It’s like a series of matryoshka dolls that you cannot put back together once you’ve opened them. It moves through four distinct musical worlds, each more inward than the last, constantly curling in on itself and finally leaving us far from where we started, as if, having gone into whatever strange interior world this is, it is impossible to return to the place where we began, or even to imagine what that place was like.

There is no reason this piece should work. It is, to my mind, a miracle. This is one I keep returning to, searching for its secret as a composer, and marveling at it as a human.

Nocturne Op 15 No 3 (in G minor)


Nicholas Weininger

Here’s my take– uncharacteristically full of DHM interpretive flights for me, so salt heavily:

This is an unrelentingly plaintive nocturne. If it’s “about” anything, it’s about unrequited longing and frustration. The structure reflects that: the A theme is so forceful you keep wanting it to make a triumphal reentry (the way op. 55 no. 3 does it), but instead the absence of it just sits there, the other themes die down, and even that bit at the end that sounds like it’ll at least be a nice sweet peaceful major-key happy ending is abandoned for a darker-sounding chord.

Another great job, BTW. The attacks near the end, in particular, were very subtly and sensitively done.

Nicholas Weininger

Ooh, I have played this song before! It’s a wonderful Nocturne – I love all of Chopin’s Nocturnes, they are so beautiful and romantic and I just can’t really describe them. Wonderful playing - you played much better than I did. Haha.

I wanted to try recording my playing, annd I have - I used my MP3 player and the quality is therefore cheapish.


I also found it interesting how this nocturne doesn’t follow the usual pattern of Chopin’s nocturnes. I read in some notes about the nocturne that E.A. Poe’s poem Ulalume inspired Chopin into writing it. What Nicholas wrote is interesting, because the basic theme is that the narrator of Ulalume hopes that a woman he loved will come back from death, but knows that such hope is false and that with it, he is only chasing an unreachable star.
Ulalume was written in 1847, and Chopin died in 1849. I know Poe was quite popular in France, so maybe it is possible that Chopin wrote this Nocturne thinking about Poe’s Ulalume.
Just some interesting information.


Miroslawa — The narrative of the unfulfillable wish does fit the music, though it’s rather unlikely that the poem inspired this particular piece: it is op. 15, and thus would probably have been written in the early 1830s. The unusual structure certainly invites this kind of search for hidden meaning, though.


Good interpretation!
I have linked this file, after a short analysis of this great work

PS: I’m Italian, sorry for my English :)

Music Student

Excuse me if I am wrong. But my music teacher has always told me that ‘ABA’ was ‘Ternary’ form. NOT binary. Perhaps you are thinking of rounded binary which is different though. My teacher has a PhD in music theory so… I trust what he says.

Music Student

thank you for your site. i find your comments quite inspiring. i am just a year into lessons and am learning prelude no.4 on the side of brahms’ intermezzo no.3 op.19 and i find it a wonderful way to feel expressive in such a fluid and free manner compared to the concentration it currently takes me to play the intermezzo. i like your adherence to feeling and intuition over virtuosity and showboating. the head is only ever a tool for the heart after all, no? thanks again.


sorry, intermezzo op.117 no.2, not 119. talking rubbish. it is late.