Frédéric François Chopin Composer
4 Mazurkas, Op.17Performances: 87
Musicology:Although Chopin spent much of his life in Paris, his ties to his native Poland often inspired his compositions, specifically in the polonaise and mazurka genres. Though Chopin appropriated many native elements in the latter, his mazurkas were not simply extensions of the Polish originals; their intricate melodic and harmonic workings, as well as the tender emotions displayed, all work to elevate the composer's memories to an intimate level of character pieces.
4 Mazurkas, Op.17Key: A-
Genre: Other Keyboard
Pr. Instrument: Piano
- 1.No.1 in Bb
- 2.No.2 in E-
- 3.No.3 in Ab
- 4.No.4 in A-
The four mazurkas of Op. 17 each add their own distinct personality and character to the entire set. The opening piece, marked Vivo e risoluto, is bold and noble, straying occasionally toward more tender, lyrical passages. The Lento second mazurka evokes a more wistful, plaintive mood, with a lyrical melody in minor mode. The shift to major in the middle section suggests a more optimistic, though temporary, sense of resolve. The third piece in the set is a good-natured dance with tied downbeats, creating the effect of ambiguity of pulse and the lengthening of the appogiaturas as a recurring motif. The final Mazurka of opus 17 presents a lyrical melody line, which is further elaborated upon and embellished, a trait found often in Chopin's nocturnes. This tender reflection is one of the composer's most intimate and personal Mazurkas, and the haunting melody is one which holds its own among all of Chopin's piano repertoire, making it a favorite among performers.
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1.No.1 in BbWhen Chopin wrote the Op. 17 set of mazurkas, he was a recently-settled refugee from Poland, hoping to return to his homeland when the political situation changed. He never would, but while he lived in France he never forgot his Polish roots, especially in the 60-odd mazurkas that he wrote.
This B flat major tenth is ebullient and aristocratic in its vigor and joy. Marked Vivo e risoluto, it is elegant and colorful in its outer sections, demure and nonchalant in the brief middle section. The main theme is one of those clever melodic creations that stay in the ear long after the performance has ended. It certainly conjures images of the dancers in the more fashionable ballrooms in the composer's homeland or even a courtly scene of grand festivity. In places, however, it softens and turns a bit reflective. In the end, this is one of the composer's better early efforts in this genre. A typical performance of this mazurka lasts about two-and-a-half to three minutes.
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2.No.2 in E-There are four mazurkas in the Op. 17 set, as compared with four in the Op. 6 and five in the Op. 7. But this collection from 1832-33 is the most substantial of the three overall, not merely because the pieces are on average longer, but because their expressive content is a bit deeper. If the opening B flat major mazurka (No. 10) is the extrovert of the set, this E minor eleventh might be regarded as the introvert.
Marked Lento, ma non troppo, it begins with a reflective theme whose charm lies in its hesitant character and subdued tone. A second idea, related to the first, is soon presented, bringing on a mood of even greater intimacy and serenity. The main theme returns to close the piece, leaving but autumnal shadows and doubt on the rather bleak musical landscape. This piece shares much in common with the sad and touching A minor mazurka, No. 13, the last piece in the Op. 17 set. Both are typical of the Polish composer's works that allegedly are born of his homesick feelings as a Parisian exile.
The Mazurka No. 11 lasts about two-and-a-half minutes in a typical performance.
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3.No.3 in AbThe mazurkas are often viewed as the composer's most Chopinesque creations, owing to their wide-ranging modes of expression and typically effective piano writing. At their happiest, they rarely break free from all sadness, and at their gloomiest there is always the suggestion of love or hope. The 51 mazurkas express longing, joy, anxiety, irony, loss, and romance. They encompass life. The four comprising Op. 17 tend to favor the composer's more pessimistic side.
The twelfth, marked Legato assai, is among the longest in the series, with perhaps only No. 35, in C minor, and No. 50, in A minor, equaling or slightly surpassing this one in duration. Typically, this A flat major mazurka is performed in about six minutes, though some pianists may stretch its gloom even further. This is surely a dark creation, with the lovely main theme hinting at brightness, but never seeming able to emerge from the doldrums. The E major trio brings a few rays of hope, but ultimately relieves little of the depressed feelings. When the main theme returns, the piece reverts to its generally gloomy character. In the end, this piece must be regarded as one of the composer's starker creations, profound yet oddly disquieting. In certain ways, it heralds the moods in some of Franz Liszt's late works.
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4.No.4 in A-The mazurka originated in the Polish province of Mazovia, near Warsaw. In the seventeenth century, the dance began to spread beyond the boundaries of Poland. Stylized mazurkas, such as Chopin's, combine aspects of this and several other dances, but some characteristics are consistently present: an accented third beat (occasionally the second) in a 3/4 measure; the use of both the natural and raised versions of some scale degrees, particularly the fourth; and a drone bass. During the 1830s and 1840s "art" music mazurkas were very popular in drawing rooms throughout Europe.
Most of Chopin's Mazurkas are in strict ternary form, some of them actually sporting a da capo to indicate the return to the first section. Chopin's later Mazurkas are more stylized and are in many cases the testing ground for some of his most experimental ideas. Unlike other Romantic-era manifestations of "folk" music, Chopin's Mazurkas contain no actual folk tunes. He uses typical rhythms associated with Polish music, fragments of Polish melodies and Polish rhythmic and cadential formulas and combines them in an original way. Chopin's mazurkas are far more advanced than those by his contemporaries. Chopin borrowed sounds he found outside the European "art" music tradition and used them to create music within that tradition. Some consider Chopin's mazurkas to be the most original of his works.
Some of the melodies of the mazurkas are unusual in comparison to the melodies of European "art" music. Many of these are related to folk mazurkas in their "modular" melodies consisting of tiny rhythmic and melodic units. Also, some use cross rhythms, chromatic scales, and modes typically not found in Western music. Often, we find remote keys used as colorful excursions from the tonic.
Chopin composed the Four Mazurkas, Op. 17, in 1832-3; they were published in Leipzig in 1834. The four pieces, some of his first compositions after moving to Paris, are in B flat major, E minor, A flat major and A minor.
The fourth of the Op. 17 set, in A minor, opens with four measures of introduction that do nothing to establish the tonic. The sense of floating produced by this harmonic ambiguity enables the chromatic descent in the bass that occurs twice in the main theme, a quickly rising melody that resists falling back until its close. As we should expect, Chopin repeats the theme, but here it is varied melodically. In minuet fashion, a new theme provides contrast and is followed by a slightly varied return of the main theme. Chromatic alterations in the first section not only anticipate the key of A major in the central trio, but also produce an "exotic" sound associated with Polish folk music. In particular, the raised fourth scale degree (a D sharp), creates a mode called "Lydian." This effect is only temporary, however, as the return of the main theme brings with it a clear A minor.
The trio section's melody is of a more driving rhythm than the main theme and is supported by droning open fifths in the bass. To this day, it is one of Chopin's more popular tunes. In the final return of the main theme we find Chopin moving outside the boundaries of the mazurka. He does not give the theme in its entirety but spins out material based on fragments of the theme to create a coda that closes the piece artfully, instead of allowing a sharp stop we find in some of his earlier examples. What is most striking, however, is that Chopin restates the introduction and its tonal ambiguity, ending the piece on an F major chord, not A minor.
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