This set of Mazurkas was composed by Frédéric Chopin between 1834-35 and published in 1836, his fourth set of Mazurkas to be published. Chopin had been in France for several years at this point in his life, and wrote these Mazurkas right around the time he was writing his first Ballade in G minor (Op. 23) and his second set of 12 Études (Op. 25). These Mazurkas are dedicated to the Count of Perthuis.
Op. 24, No. 1:
This Mazurka is in G minor and is marked Lento. The A section is in binary form, with the first phrases in G minor and the second phrases in the relative major of Bb. Though the first phrases have the characteristic dotted rhythms of a Mazurka, the melody of the Bb major phrases feature many triplet eighth-note rhythms:
The B section, marked con anime is in the submediant key of Eb. The melody is played in thirds, and Chopin uses Eb as the root of a German augmented-sixth chord to return to G minor. The A section does not fully return, making the form a rounded-binary form.
Op. 24, No 2:
The second Mazurka in this set is completely devoid of dotted rhythms, a departure from the typical rhythmic structure of a Mazurka. In C major, it begins with exaggerated motion between I and V:
The main theme begins in A minor thereafter, and cadences back to C major at the end of the phrase. Chopin compensates for the lack of dotted rhythmic patterns by adding frequent, sharp attacks on beat three, disorienting the listener to the downbeat (seen below). The ternary A section stays in C major the entire time; this is possibly because the B section is very shockingly in Db major – the key of the Neapolitan:
To transition back to C major from Db major, Chopin employs chromatic and enharmonic modulation. Notice the last four bars of the section in the figure below, how the Cb in the bass, the F in the tenor, and the Eb in the soprano all move down one half-step, while the alto voice changes enharmonically from Ab to G#, creating an E7, which brings us back to beginning of the A section, which began with A minor:
The piece ends with the opening I to V motion, but humorously fluctuates between F – C and C – G before ending on a tonic C major.
Op. 24, No. 3:
This Mazurka in Ab major is much more typical of a Mazurka. The first phrase of A section begins on a dominant-seventh chord and features a melody with many dotted-rhythms, perhaps to compensate for their absence in the second Mazurka. A very short piece, the B section has a descending sequence with cadences to a C major chord. This modulation is surprising, and fits together with the previous nocturne, which modulated to the Neapolitan key. The form is rounded binary, and ends with a small codetta in Ab major.
Op. 24, No. 4:
In Bb minor, the last Mazurka of this set is unquestionably the most substantial in scope. Marked Moderato, it begins with two treble voices converging with each other before the accompaniment comes in on the dominant:
The first phrases of the A section begin quietly and gradually rise to a fortissimo at the cadence. The next phrases are in the relative major of Db, whereupon the melody contains some doubly-dotted eighth-notes. They have the same effect as grace notes, but it is interesting to see them notated this way:
After the end of the A section, the form begins to break away from the typical ABA (or sometimes rounded binary) form of most of his Mazurkas. There is a section that begins with unison motion in both hands. As this is very similar to the beginning of the first ballade in G minor, op. 23, which was published immediately before this set of Mazurkas, one might speculate which one influenced the other (see below). This section flows into a sort of developmental section in which Chopin cycles between Db major, the parallal Db minor, and even E major:
The A section then returns, followed by an extended coda section, which eventually reaches Bb major. Interestingly, Chopin interpolates a D minor chord between his final V and I before ending with a melodic phrase:
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
- Vladimir Horowitz
- Krystian Zemerman
Captain Thaddius’ Hot Take:
Chopin’s Mazurkas are very delightful pieces to explore. They are very approachable for students interesting in studying formal and harmonic analysis, and some are even playable for intermediate players, such as the third Mazurka of this set. The fourth Mazurka would be a very challenging undertaking for advanced players, especially with regards to phrasing (melodic and harmonic) and articulation.