Recorded on 09/01/2009, uploaded on 09/01/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Four Mazurkas, op. 33 Frédéric Chopin
Arriving in Paris in late September 1831, Chopin was uncertain whether he would ultimately call the French capital home. Political uncertainties in the aftermath of the November Uprising prevented him from returning to his native Poland, though he harbored hopes of one day returning. This dream, however, was never realized and Chopin became one of the many Polish expatriates that came to call France home.
It was around this time that he began to compose the bulk of his Mazurkas and Polonaises—concert pieces heavily influenced by the traditional dances of Poland. In some, it is easy to detect Chopin’s homesickness and it is likely that their composition was his way of keeping the image of his homeland alive. On the other hand, he could not have been completely unaware of their novelty to the French public who were perhaps enthralled by the dances of some exotic land in the east.
The four mazurkas of opus 33 were composed in 1838. The first, a slow piece in G-sharp minor, begins with a semitone oscillation upon the dominant followed by an expressive leap upward of a sixth. The pace of the piece is slow and its mood mournful. In fact, it was written shortly after the composition of his famous Funeral March. Solace is temporarily found in the B major melody that forms the middle part of the mazurka. However, a final, brief reprise of the opening and a dim close in G-sharp minor conclude the dance with a feeling of sorrow. In stark contrast, the following mazurka, in D major and marked Vivace, presents a vision of rustic joviality. The folk-like tune is based largely around the primary triads of the tonic key and exhibits the repetitiveness often found in the traditional dances. Contrast is achieved through changing dynamics. The trio section changes to the key of B-flat major with a more stately air in its melody. After a reprise of the opening tune, an almost jocular coda brings the mazurka to a close.
Continuing in a display of contrasts, Chopin marks the third mazurka simply “Semplice.” Indeed, no other marking could be quite so effective in conveying the manner of this brief piece. Based on two charming melodies—the first in C major and the second in A-flat—the mazurka flows effortlessly between the two sections of its ternary design and then the da capo repeat of its opening. Returning somewhat to the air of the first mazurka, the last of the set, that in B minor, opens with a mournful tune. Embodying a sort of rondo form instead of the more usual ternary design, this last mazurka is one of Chopin’s longest. The first episode, if it can be called such because of its brevity, changes to the key of B-flat major, though much inflected by its parallel minor. No distinct tune here is evident, only a rhythmic motif of unrestrained passion. This section returns again, after a reprise of the mournful B minor tune, to head off the second and lengthier episode. Shifting to the key of B major, with touches of G-sharp minor, this episode presents a lyrical but bittersweet melody. Interestingly, the episode closes with a rather playful section which eventually leads to the final reprise of the opening. The melody is cut off unexpectedly after its second phrase and descending fifths, implying a Neapolitan harmony, sound quietly like the tolling of bells in the distance. A terse final cadence, with the expressive marking “risvegliato,” meaning “awakened” in Italian, then ends the dance. Joseph DuBose
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