Chopin Nocturne C# minor (1830)

Nocturne in C# minor (1830)

…an analysis

©2018 Ralph Hedges

Conventions Used in the Analysis of the Nocturne

Notes are enclosed with singe quotation mark to differentiate between a note vs. an article; ‘A’ major triad on…, vs.  ‘A major triad is …’  Accidentals are usually spelled out; ‘A-flat’, ‘B-natural’, ‘C-sharp’, etc.  Chords are indicated with Roman numerals in Times Roman, 12pt; ‘VI, bII, V’, etc. …below the bass staff. The key the work is in is located above the treble staff and in Times Roman 14pt bold ‘I’ ‘VI’, etc.  Modulations are also indicated in Times Roman 12pt bold, ‘III’, ‘bVI’ etc.  When a key is described it is done with the word starting in a capital letter, ‘The key of the Tonic’ (I), ‘The key of the Super-Tonic’ (II), etc., in Times Roman 14pt, not in bold.

Lower case for minor ‘ii’  ‘iii’, etc. are never be used as they appear to be an alteration from the norm. ‘II’ and ‘III’ areminor.  They are normal in a major key and need no special indication to show them as minor. In any case, vii is not minor. ‘V/V’ or ‘VofV’ for a super-tonic dominant is an aberration. It completely loses the super-tonic function, and its form cannot be used on other ‘secondary’ dominants.  A super-tonic triad in a minor key is a normal diminished triad and is functionable (II).   A diminished-seventh chord is not functionable under any circumstance.  It is considered a dominant with a missing root (sans root), and will be indicated with a ‘o’ in front of the x; ‘ox’.  Thus, a ‘B-diminished’ seventh chord will be indicated as a ‘G’ dominant.  

A distinction must be made between ‘function’ and ‘quality’.  Dominant function (V) is not to be confused with dominant quality (x).  ‘V’ is only a function and may be minor, major, or dominant quality.  Chord quality indications are placed between the staves, chord functions below, and modulations in Roman numerals above the staves. Figured bass is not included here as its use is limited. Elements of theoretical indications must be kept separate to avoid any possibility of confusion; ‘ii’ combines function with quality, ‘V7’ combines function with figured bass and is erroneously regarded as a symbol of a harmonic quality, ‘V7/V’ combines and confuses function with quality, and with figured bass. 

Analysis of the Chopin Nocturne in C# minor (1830)

Analysis of these measures might look like the line below.  Note that functions I, IV, etc are combined with identities, Im, VI#6, and VM.  ‘VI#6’ is particularly disturbing since its identity is not given, only the function ‘#6’.  An ‘augmented-six’ chord is a ‘dominant’[1], and since it doesn’t fall on ‘V’ it should be regarded as a ‘secondary dominant’, according to the theory.

It could be designated as a ‘secondary dominant’ .  However, that doesn’t do the trick because an ‘augmented-six’ chord isn’t a ‘dominant-seventh’…or is it?[2]


When harmonic functions (I, IV, V) are separate from harmonic identities (m, M, x), a more logical analysis presents itself. [3]

The same line below shows the first chord of the second measure as a super-tonic dominantninth; II and x9.  You will notice that the treble notes are the same as the original by Chopin.  Whereas the ‘F-double-sharp’ is a major 3rdhere, it was the augmented-six in the original, VI#6. This, however, is not the main point. Characteristic intervals are. They define harmonies, and in the case of the dominant (x), the major 3rdand the minor 7thdefine the dominant (x); they are the characteristic intervals. And, the forth measure shows the original chord.


The following lines are fairly self-evident, except that there is a major chord on the tonic, measure 7, followed by a dominant chord (x), then the super-tonic chords in the following measure are normal half-diminished chords.  With no identifying symbol for the dominant, theorists would have to call this dominant a ‘secondary dominant’; ‘V7/IV’. But there is no ‘IV’ for it to be ‘V’ of. In addition, its function as a tonic (I) would be lost. Really stupid.

The scale in measure 15 could be analyzed as a minor scale with a major 7th, E# and a minor 6th, D-natural, except that it is over a C# root, making it a dominant scale with a major 3rd, E# and a minor 7th, D-natural.

Without this vital information, ear training of chord identities, especially of the dominant is impossible. One does not hear, as a dominant, an ‘augmented-six’ chord.[4]  In addition, ‘secondary dominants’ only indicate functions of functions (V7/V) and not the identity of the chord.  It’s identity is not there, having been replaced by a ‘function of a function’.  These two issues provide ample reason to remove the theory of the ‘secondary dominant’ from all music theory textbooks.

Measure 17 shows a ‘D’ major chord with the 3rdin the bass, a ‘Neapolitan’. Measure 18 shows a dominant (x) on the leading-tone, VII, with ‘B’ as the root, followed by a dominant (x) on the sub-dominant, IV with an augmented-sixth (minor 7th) in the bass leading up to ‘G’ the tonic (I).

The key of the Sub-Dominant (IV), ‘A’ major is well established by the number of V-I movements in the line. 


Measure 31 show a dominant (x) on ‘bV’ where there is a tritone ‘F-B’, the characteristic interval of the dominant on ‘G’, the following note after the tritone. The half-diminished chords on the Super-Tonics (II) are normal.

The dominant (x) in measure 34 may be regarded as a super-tonic (II) on root, ‘D-sharp’, in which case ‘A’ in the bass is a o5 of the chord, or with ‘A’ as the root with ‘D-sharp’ as the +4/o5 of the dominant, ‘Vl+6’. These are the same chords found in the second measure of the piece.  ‘bV and II’ are inversion of one another as both share the same tritone, ‘F##-C#’

The scales in the following measures look like and are E major scales over half-diminished harmonies, and as such contain the same characteristic intervals of the minor 3rd, minor 7th and diminished 5th. A half-diminished super-tonic is normal within the key, and the scale is also normal within the key.

Ralph Carroll Hedges, B.Ed., B.Mus., M.M.


[1]In addition, the word ‘dominant’ has only one definition in a musical sense, that of the fifth note of a scale. Period.  There is no contrasting definition.  (see two definitions of ‘dominant’).

[2]To help the reader understand the resolution to this problem, refer please to ‘The Tritone Its Function’.

[3]The reason theory texts are so convoluted and irrational is because the PhD’s who write the texts refuse to provide the dominant with an identity apart from its function, and they insist that a function is an identity, which mixes apples and oranges, so to speak. A function is a number, a position, I, II, III, etc.  An identity is a symbol or letter, M, m,  V7.  Doesn’t that look strange, however?  Why is ‘V7’, a function included with harmonic identities?  That, my good reader, is the enigma that has confounded theorists for the past 300 years!  They simply will not allow the dominant an identity.  The solution is to provide the dominant with the identifier, ‘x’.  ‘x’ does not conflict with any other harmonic symbol, and it solves most of the problems of music theory.  Now a complete roster of harmonic identities may be listed as; M, m, x,  and o …major, minor, dominant, half-diminished, and diminished, respectively.

[4]Refer to the article “There is No Such Thing as an Augmented-Six Chord” by the author.

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