Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) wrote a great number of Mazurka to champion is Polish heritage. 58 of these Mazurkas were published, beginning with his Op. 6 set, which were published in 1832, two years after their completion. They are dedicated to the Countess Pauline Plater. The Mazurka dance is characterized mainly by its dotted eighth rhythms.
Op. 6, No. 1:
Chopin’s very first pubished Mazurka is in the key of F# minor. It begins quietly on a dominant chord as opposed to the tonic, and takes a very quick turn to the relative major (A) before a long descending sequence leads to a cadence back in F# minor. Below, observe the sequence (note the descending chromatic bass line):
This Mazurka has an ABA form, but with a small scherzo-like section before the return of the last A section:
Op. 6, No. 2:
This Mazurka is in C# minor and begins with eight bars of dominant prolongation (partially shown in the image directly below), during which, there is a melody in the middle voice, which moves between the hands each measure. The A section is in ternary form, with an eight-bar phrase in C# minor encapsulating an eight-bar phrase in G# major (the dominant). The cadences of the C# minor phrases are indicated con forza (to be played with force) which contrasts with the leggiero (light) indication of the G# major phrase.
The B section begins with a somewhat harmonically comical eight-bar phrase that is clearly in A major for seven and one-half measures before a surprising and somewhat mischievous return to C# minor. The B section flows into the introductory dominant prolongation before returning to the A section, making an overall form of ABA.
Op. 6, No. 3:
This very short and faster Mazurka, in relation to the first two Mazurkas, is in E major and begins with a tonic vamp in the left hand before a bass motive (played by the right hand) enters into the piece:
This same motive is stated over the dominant and subdominant harmonies within the piece. The A section is mostly staccato and contrasts nicely with the mostly legato B section.
Op. 6, No 4:
The shortest of the four, this Mazurka has only an eight-measure A section and a 16-bar section in which B is stated and returns to A to create a rounded-binary form. It is in the key of Eb minor, and begins right away in tonic. It is marked presto, but the lyrical articulation and flowing accompaniment helps the listener to hear the piece in a modest meter of “1” instead of a fast “3.” Chopin again employs a descending sequence which makes up the entire B section.
Publishers of Chopin’s music include:
- Breikopf & Härtel
- Maurice Schlesinger
- Camille Pleyel
- Cybulski (Polish)
- Brzezina (Polish)
Notable performers with recordings of this piece include:
- Arthur Rubinstein
- Vladimir Ashkenazy
- Nikita Magaloff
- Henryk Sztompka
Captain Thaddius’ Hot Take:
These are not very well-known pieces of Chopin, but are very fun and approachable for the undergraduate level. For any new theory students looking for some challenging-but-not-too-challenging harmonic analysis, these pieces would be a great exercise.