Recorded on 09/01/2009, uploaded on 09/01/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Julian Fontana, like Chopin himself, was left alienated from his homeland in the wake of the November Uprising and ultimately came to call Paris home. Coming from similar backgrounds and Fontana being a pianist as well, the two became close friends. When Chopin passed away in 1849, Fontana became the executor of Chopin’s manuscripts. It was the composer’s express wish that all his unpublished manuscripts be destroyed after his death. Fontana, however, published many of these works during the decade following Chopin’s death. It is fortunate for us that Fontana did not heed his friend’s wishes, considering the number of pieces that would have otherwise been condemned to fire.
Two sets of four mazurkas, opera 67 and 68, were published posthumously by Fontana in Berlin in 1855. The second of these collections nearly spans Chopin’s entire career—the earliest, No. 2 in A minor dates from 1827; Nos. 1 and 3, in C major and F major, respectively, date from 1830; finally, the last mazurka, in F minor, was composed in 1849 only a few months before Chopin’s death. Unlike the previous opus 67 set which also spanned much of the composer’s career, the disparity between Chopin’s early and late styles is more evident here with the last mazurka representing a very different style than its three companions. It was among the composer’s last works and left only as a sketch at the time of his death. A shortened version of it is what appears in Fontana’s published edition, though a more complete version was produced by Jan Ekier in 1965.
Set in the dark and mournful key of F minor, the extreme chromaticism of Chopin’s last mazurka offers a poignant view of what must have been the mindset of the composer in his final days. In the opening measures, both melody and harmony descend slowly and chromatically as if drug down by some unbearable weight. An altogether different mood appears in a brief and bold change into the key of A major. This moment of relief, however, is short-lived and the music is pulled back into the key of F minor. Another short excursion into A-flat major attempts to restore the happier disposition that seems to have slipped away but to no avail. Instead, a passage in C minor brings about a return to F minor and a da capo repeat of the doleful opening. Joseph DuBose
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