Monday, February 10, 2014

Chopin - Mazurkas, Opus 17

 Chopin was traveling to Vienna in 1830 when he first heard of the November Uprising in Poland, which brought on the war between Poland and their Russian occupiers. Chopin was on his way to Paris from Vienna in 1831 when he heard that the uprising had been brutally crushed. He arrived in Paris in September of the same year and was advised by friends and family to not go back to Poland until the political situation changed, but it never did in his lifetime. He became a more nationalistic composer after the crushing of the uprising, and  expressed his longing for his country by writing more music in the form of Polish native dances, such as the polonaise and mazurka. The mazurka is a dance that is usually lively in tempo, in triple time, and has distinctive rhythms such as the examples below:
Chopin used some of the characteristics of the traditional mazurka but also added other features to it such as counterpoint and other classical compositional techniques. Chopin's mazurkas are stylized versions of the folk dance and as such they are not suitable to dance to. This was Chopin's intent and he made a different form of the dance that was more suited for the recital hall.  

He began writing mazurkas in 1825 while still in Poland and continued to write them until his death in 1849.
He wrote at least 69 of them, with 58 being published. The rest are still in manuscript form in private hands or are lost.
He wrote the four mazurkas of opus 17 in 1832-1833 and they are the first ones he wrote in Paris. They were published in 1834.

1. In B-flat, Vivo e risoluto -  Chopin retains much of the flavor of the traditional dance with the rhythmic opening theme which id followed by a section of accented chords. The first theme repeats along with the accented chords. There is a third section that begins with a four-bar introduction to it that is accented off the beat, as is some of the third section. After the third section is played the opening two sections are repeated.

2. In E minor,  Lento, ma non troppo - A mazurka in contrast to the preceding one as there is a touch of sadness to the beginning. The next section is a little brighter in mood, but the melancholy melody of the first section repeats and the music ends quietly. 

3. A-flat major, Allegro assai - The first theme is gently accented on the second beat of the measure and repeats. The 2nd section shifts the accent to the third beat of the measure, and the first theme is repeated, and the entire 2nd section repeats.  A short transition is part of the third section and leads to eighth note triplets. After this section, the mazurka plays the beginning theme along with the 2nd section. The first theme ends the mazurka quietly. 

4. A minor, Lento, ma non troppo - Four bars of pianissimo chords begins the mazurka, one of Chopin's most intimate creations. The melody plays over chords and is embellished with grace notes and runs. The next section is in A major and has a descending motif followed by an ascending motif. The music modulates back to A minor as the first theme repeats with slight differences. There is a final section  of descending motifs and after the first playing it is repeated with embellishments. The music ends with the same four bars as the beginning with the last bar a eighth note triplet of d-e-d and a chord that resolves little. 

Chopin loved his country before he left it to make a name for himself in the music capital of Europe, Vienna. His subsequent exile from Poland deepened that love and caused him to become nostalgic and homesick. Some of these feelings are expressed in his music, especially the mazurkas. Chopin himself called them 'Little pictures', of his homeland, customs and people.  



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