Four Mazurkas, Op. 17

Op. 17 is the third set of Mazurkas published by Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849). Written between 1832-33 and published the following year, these Mazurkas use the melodic embellishments so well-known and beloved in his Nocturnes, more so than the Mazurkas in Op. 6. Chopin had left Poland for France at this point because of the Polish uprising of 1930 which made him a refugee. Chopin always hoped to return to Poland but was never able to return. 

The word Muzurka refers to the Mazur people, who live in Mazovia, Poland. The Mazurka is part of the general heading of dances called Oborek. Three types of Mazurka are the Kujawiak – a slower dance, often in the mixolydian mode – the Mazur – a dance of a moderate tempo after which Chopin styled his Mazurkas after most often – and Obertas – which were the faster of the genre. All Mazurka are characterized by being saturated with dotted rhythms, as well as grace notes, and irregular accentuations.

You can read more about the history of the Oborek dances here:

http://pmc.usc.edu/dance/oberek.html

Op. 17 No. 1

This Mazurka is in Bb major and marked Vivo e risoluto It features a melody which is almost always harmonic intervals of 3rds and 6ths, or full chords. The A section contains an 8-bar phrase in a very stable tonic center. In between three statements of this phrase are two statements of a second phrase beginning on a C7 chord and resolving to the tonicized dominant of F major. The repeated chords, chromatic soprano voice, and dotted rhythmic structure of this phrase are similar to the opening of his Op. 31 Scherzo in Bb major:

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The B section is in the subdominant Eb major, and features a tonic pedal point which lasts the whole section. A return of the A section finishes out the ABA form.

Op. 17, No. 2

The second Mazurka is marked Lento ma non troppo and is in E minor, which is a great contrast from the Bb major of the previous nocturne. The mood is also quite different from the triumphant character of the first. The nocturne itself is more along the lines of a Kujawiak, which is the slower of the Mazurka types. The A section features two 12-bar phrases, with the last four measures being a repeat of the previous four. The first phrase ends in a half cadence, and the second phrase ends in an authentic cadence.

The melodic note (E) ties over into a suspension, which begins the B section in the key of the submediant (C major). Chopin finds the dominant G and begins a very long pedal point with G in the bass. The tenor and alto voices chromatically rise and fall in sixth harmony, driving to a half cadence of very intriguing pre-dominant substitution chords, which brings the return of the A section: 

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Op. 17, No. 3:

The third Mazurka is marked Legato assai and is in Ab major. It is of a more contrapuntal style than some of his earlier Marzurkas, such as Op. 6. The A section is in ternary form, with the first phrases being very sweet (marking of dolce) and lyrical. The middle of the A section is more forceful and features a left hand which does not play on downbeats.

The B section is also in ternary form, and again begins with lyrical phrases, this time in E major, which is quite a shocking departure from Ab major. Chopin achieves this by taking the final note in the melody, an Ab, and enharmonically tying it over as a G#, suspended over a B7 chord (the dominant of E major). Though the connection of Ab and E major seems surprising, both begin with the melody on the third scale degree, and thus the (enharmonically) tertiary relationship between the keys is evident. The middle of the B section is a simple scalar rise in B major in the right hand over an F#7 in the left hand, which resolves at the ends of the phrases.

Op. 17, No. 4

The final Mazurka of this set is marked Lento ma non troppo and is in A minor. This mazurka is longer than the others in the set and is perhaps the largest in scope as well. The piece begins with an interesting three voice chorale-type section in which the middle voice is the melody and the top and bottom voices stay the same. The ensuing phrase has a choral left hand similar to the famous Prelude in E minor (Op. 28, No. 4). The phrase ends with a descending melodic sequence but the drive to A minor is unsatisfied, instead beginning a repeat of the phrase which does succeed in ending on the first tonic chord of the piece, several measures in.

 

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The A section ends with a “Picardy Third”, leading us to a B section in the parallel A major. As with many of his B sections, there is a pedal point (this time of the tonic, A) throughout the entire B section. After the return and recapitulation of the A section, the piece ends with the same introductory choral-style rhetoric. Very interestingly, the final chord is not a resolved A minor, the expected chord tone “E” is replaced with an “F”, making a chord which can be analyzed as an F major in first inversion, though the ear will probably hear an unresolved A minor.

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 Publishers of Chopin’s music include:

  • Breikopf & Härtel
  • Maurice Schlesinger
  • Camille Pleyel
  • Cybulski (Polish)
  • Brzezina (Polish)
  • Peters

Notable performers with recordings of this piece include:

  • Arthur Rubinstein
  • Vladimir Ashkenazy
  • Vladimir Horowitz
  • Tatiana Shebanova

Captain Thaddius’ Hot Take:

These Mazurkas are a bit more technically challenging than the Mazurkas of Op. 6. There is more counterpoint in the left hand, and more complex and surprising harmonic changes (such as the enharmonic modulation of the third Mazurka), and multi-voiced melody. Performing this set with great attention to articulation and rhythmic integrity would be a very great challenge for advanced students, though less advanced could enjoy learning the notes and doing the best they could with articulation. 

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