Sunday, September 4, 2011

Chopin, Harmonic Series, Sympathetic Resonance & the Pedal: A Short Note on Nocturne No. 15 in F Minor, Op. 55/No. 1 by Payman Akhlaghi (2011)

Frederic Chopin, Nocturne No. 15 in F Minor, Op. 55, No. 1
A Brief Comparative Discussion of the Coda by Payman Akhlaghi

The Coda From Chopin's
Nocturne in Fm
The Mikuli Edition
(Click to Enlarge)
The Coda of Nocturne Op. 55, No. 1 is founded on a 13-bar pedal point of an F- major chord, spaced in an open position and sustained in the bass. This passage is of particular significance, given the fast decay of piano sounds.

In the Mikuli edition (left), the bass line is once re-articulated, while in the Joseffy edition (right), as well as in the Paderewski edition (as I recall), these chords are tied together throughout the entire passage without interruption. (NB: In the Mikuli edtion, at the beginning of the third system from the bottom, a Pedal marking is clearly omitted by error.)

The Coda from Chopin's
Nocturne in Fm
The Joseffy Edition
The discrepancy is not a trivium. It seems that Mikuli, in his focus on the theoretical aspects of the instrument, has lost sight of the composer's ingenious calculation of the effects of the harmonic series on the bass line, that is, the sympathetic resonance of the LH open strings with the rapidly ascending F-Major arpeggio of the RH. In practice, as the passage unfolds, the bass line "stays alive" by a succession of rapid notes in the right hand. That is, the arpeggio "keeps playing" the open F-C-A strings of the bass, by reinforcing their upper partials.

If so, the pianist might further consider to experiment with the damper pedal, perhaps avoiding it for the entire passage, partially or altogether, to allow for a more unique and delicate effect a more selective interference pattern, to emerge out of the interaction of the RH arpeggio with the only the three strings remained open (senza sordine, or "undamped") in the bass. Alternatively, and perhaps preferrably, one could also experiment with a gradual release of the pedal, as the diminuendo progresses.

You may notice how beautifully the sustained F-major chord in the left hand starts out, and continues, by "shadowing" the right-hand arpeggio. It's a most subtle effect, which could be easily lost if the sustained F-major chord is re-articulated, or if the passage is over-pedalled.

© 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

1) The Mikuli edition in PDF:
2) The Joseffy Edition in PDF

Payman Akhlaghi is an LA-based composer, pianist and piano teacher. For lessons, covering the Greater Los Angeles Area, please contact: (310) 208-2927.

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