Nocturne is the French word for ‘nocturnal’ (occurring or active at night). When used in reference to music, a nocturne refers to a piece that has been inspired by (or conjures up images/feelings of) the night.


Examples of a nocturne

There are numerous nocturnes by famous composers, including examples by Debussy, Mendelssohn and Rachmaninoff. However, with his collection of 21 nocturnes for solo piano, Chopin may be the composer that first springs to mind in relation to this style of music.

Perhaps one of the best-known nocturnes from Chopin’s collection is his Nocturne in E Flat Major, Opus 9, number 2, in which the melody has an enchanting dreamlike quality.


Who invented the nocturne?

While Chopin may be strongly associated with nocturnes, it is Irish composer John Field who is credited with their invention. Field composed 18 nocturnes, the first of which were published in 1814. Liszt would later describe Field’s nocturnes as being as “soothing as the slow, measured rocking of a boat or the swinging of a hammock”.