A nocturne is a musical composition, inspired by, or evocative of, the night. Nocturne is a old term applied to night Offices and, since the Middle Ages, to divisions in the canonical hour of Matins; the name nocturne was first applied to pieces in the 18th century, when it indicated an ensemble piece in several movements played for an evening party and laid aside. Sometimes it carried the Italian equivalent, such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Notturno in D, K.286, written for four echoing separated ensembles of paired horns with strings, his Serenata Notturna, K. 239. At this time, the piece was not evocative of the night, but might be intended for performance at night, much like a serenade; the chief difference between the serenade and the notturno was the time of the evening at which they would be performed: the former around 9:00pm, the latter closer to 11:00 pm. In its more familiar form as a single-movement character piece written for solo piano, the nocturne was cultivated in the 19th century.

The first nocturnes to be written under the specific title were by the Irish composer John Field viewed as the father of the Romantic nocturne that characteristically features a cantabile melody over an arpeggiated guitar-like accompaniment. However, the most famous exponent of the form was Frédéric Chopin. One of the most famous pieces of 19th-century salon music was the "Fifth Nocturne" of Ignace Leybach, now otherwise forgotten. Composers to write nocturnes for the piano include Gabriel Fauré, Alexander Scriabin, Erik Satie, Francis Poulenc, as well as Peter Sculthorpe. In the movement entitled'The Night's Music' of Out of Doors for solo piano, Béla Bartók imitated the sounds of nature, it contains quiet, blurred cluster-chords and imitations of the twittering of birds and croaking of nocturnal creatures, with lonely melodies in contrasting sections. American composer Lowell Liebermann has written eleven Nocturnes for piano, of which No.6 was arranged by the composer as Nocturne for Orchestra.

Other notable nocturnes from the 20th century include those from Michael Glenn Williams, Samuel Barber and Robert Helps. Other examples of nocturnes include the one for orchestra from Felix Mendelssohn's incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, the set of three for orchestra and female choir by Claude Debussy and the first movement of the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Dmitri Shostakovich. French composer Erik Satie composed a series of five small nocturnes; these were, far different from those of Field and Chopin. In 1958, Benjamin Britten wrote a Nocturne for tenor, seven obbligato instruments and strings, the third movement of his Serenade for Tenor and Strings is titled "Nocturne". Nocturnes are thought of as being tranquil expressive and lyrical, sometimes rather gloomy, but in practice pieces with the name nocturne have conveyed a variety of moods: the second of Debussy's orchestral Nocturnes, "Fêtes", for example, is lively, as are parts of Karol Szymanowski's Nocturne and Tarantella and Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji's Symphonic Nocturne for Piano Alone.

Charles-Valentin Alkan: five for solo piano Anton Stepanovich Arensky: two nocturnes for piano, each part of a set: No. 1 from Six Pieces, Op. 5. Alexander Borodin: his String Quartet No. 2 third movement Notturno contains one of his most popular melodies Lili Boulanger: Nocturne pour violon et piano Benjamin Britten: Nocturne, from On This Island, Op. 11 Frédéric Chopin: 21 for solo piano Carl Czerny: 17 for solo piano Claude Debussy: 3 for orchestra and choir, one for solo piano Norman Dello Joio: Two Nocturnes, for piano Antonin Dvořák: Nocturne in B for string orchestra Roger Evernden: 10 Nocturnes for solo piano Gabriel Fauré: 13 for solo piano John Field: originator of the piano nocturne, wrote 16 of them Irving Fine: Notturno, for strings and harp Mikhail Glinka: three nocturnes: E-flat major, "La Separation" in F minor, "Le Regret" Louis Moreau Gottschalk: four for piano solo, "Pensée poétique", "Solitude", "Murmures Eoliens", "La chute des feuilles" Edvard Grieg: the fourth piece of his Lyric Pieces, Op 54 is a nocturne Arthur Honegger: Nocturne for orchestra Vasily Kalinnikov: Nocturne in F♯ minor, for piano Friedrich Kalkbrenner: 4 nocturnes for solo piano Kevin Keller: 10 nocturnes for piano and treatments Ignace Leybach: now known only for his Fifth Nocturne Lowell Liebermann: 11 for solo piano and Nocturne for Orchestra Franz Liszt: one for solo piano entitled En reve, plus his collection of three Liebesträume, a series of three Notturnos, of which no.3 is t

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