Chopin: Nocturne in E-flat Major

This is probably one of the best-known and best-loved out of all Chopin's nocturnes - rightly so. Although it has been overplayed to death, and although several performances suffer from excruciatingly slow tempi, no one can deny its elegance and charm.

The architecture is straightfoward enough: an A section which repeats, followed by a B section, then A again, then B, and a coda, in a form technically known as rounded binary. Chopin's genius lies in keeping the same harmonic foundation in each repeated section while progressively ornamenting the melody, finding ways to keep it fresh and exciting every time it returns. Finally, elements of both themes in the A and B sections are combined into a wonderful coda (listen for them!), becoming increasingly agitated until reaching an impassioned dominant, prepared by a c-flat anticipation held for an almost ridiculous amount of time.

Almost - Chopin, as well as Beethoven, is a master at reaching the fine line separating drama and melodrama, pathos and sentimentality, without going over the edge. The famous cadenza - a four-note motif marked senza tempo during which time stands still - repeats faster and faster, more and more insistent, until finally relenting, and finding its way back to a tender, emotional reconciliation with the tonic.