Philadelphia, PA—Frédéric Chopin, the influential nineteenth-century Polish composer and pianist, may have composed some of his Nocturnes during the daytime, according to new research.
Musicologists at the University of Pennsylvania have uncovered evidence suggesting that Chopin may have deliberately mislabeled many, if not all, of his so-called “Nocturnes”, piano pieces ostensibly meant to depict the nighttime.
In a recently discovered letter to novelist George Sand, dated 8 September 1843, Chopin admits to finishing a nocturne in E-flat, likely to be his Opus 55, over the course of several afternoons, with “the sun searing overhead, the sky as blue as your [Sand’s] eyes,” in Chopin’s words. The composer added that it was “certainly not the first nocturne [he] composed” during the day, not would it be his last.
The letter continues:
George, my lover, my confidant, I trust that you will keep this knowledge secret from all, even those most dear to you. It mustn’t be known that these pieces were drawn not by the moon, nor by the stars, nor by the melancholy that has poured over my heart on many a sleepless night, but by waking light, bright-eyed and alert. If you are not so inclined to burn this letter, then please, I beg you, keep it hidden. It shall stay in darkness, and, unlike my Nocturnes, shall never see the light of day. Not a soul can know the truth!
For Jeffrey Kallberg, Professor of Music History at the University of Pennslyvania, the letter is the “smoking gun” proving that Chopin misled not only his contemporaries, but also several generations of admirers up to the present day.
“It’s a shocking admission. Chopin’s whole biography will have to be rewritten,” Kallberg said in an interview. “From now on we must listen to these pieces not as portraits of the night, but as messages of deceit. The lyrical subject found in each miniature must be heard as Chopin’s duplicitous voice, singing songs of daylight cloaked in a fraudulent evening robe.”
Jim Samson, Professor of Music at Royal Hollaway, University of London, who is currently editing a new critical edition of Chopin’s complete works, has called on musicians and scholars to begin referring to the 21 beloved character pieces by a new name.
“Our forthcoming critical edition of these works, published by Peters, will be the first to feature an accurate title,” Samson said. “They shall henceforth be called Diurnes.”
Others were less surprised by the news. Jerome Lowenthal, Professor of Piano at the Juilliard School, believes the hype surrounding the revelations to be overblown.
“Pianists have known this for years,” Lowenthal said. “Have you ever heard to the Nocturne in D-flat? It’s one of the sunniest pieces in the whole canon.”