Mazurka No.40

Frédéric Chopin

Mazurka No.40 in F minor

Op. 63/2, B. 162/2

About this work

The mazurka originated in the Polish province of Mazovia, near Warsaw. In the seventeenth century, the dance began to spread beyond the boundaries of Poland. Stylized mazurkas, such as Chopin's, combine aspects of this and several other dances, but some characteristics are consistently present: an accented third beat (occasionally the second) in a 3/4 measure; the use of both the natural and raised versions of some scale degrees, particularly the fourth; and a drone bass. During the 1830s and 1840s "art" music mazurkas were very popular in drawing rooms throughout Europe.

Some of the melodies of the mazurkas are unusual in comparison to the melodies of European "art" music. Many of these are related to folk mazurkas in their "modular" melodies consisting of tiny rhythmic and melodic units. Also, some use cross rhythms, chromatic scales, and modes typically not found in Western music. Often, we find remote keys used as colorful excursions from the tonic.

Most of Chopin's Mazurkas are in strict ternary form, some of them actually sporting a da capo to indicate the return to the first section. Chopin's later Mazurkas are more stylized and are in many cases the testing ground for some of his most experimental ideas. Unlike other Romantic-era manifestations of "folk" music, Chopin's Mazurkas contain no actual folk tunes. He uses typical rhythms associated with Polish music, fragments of Polish melodies and Polish rhythmic and cadential formulas and combines them in an original way. Chopin borrowed sounds he found outside European "art" music and used them to create music within that tradition. Some consider Chopin's mazurkas to be the most original of his works.

Composed in 1846, the Three Mazurkas, Op. 63, in B major, F minor, and C sharp minor, were published first in Leipzig in 1847. These mazurkas were composed at a time of unrest for Chopin, when his relationship with George Sand (Aurore Dudevant) began to dissolve. Among the composer's shortest mazurkas, they were the last to be published during his lifetime.

Chopin opens the second of the Op. 59 set, in F minor, with a melody that is unusual in the context of the mazurka. Although there is an accent on the second beat of the measure, the downward sweep of even eighth notes in the second and sixth measures does not convey any sort of dance rhythm. Most notable is that the first occurrence of this eight-measure melody closes on the dominant (C major), while the repeat closes on the tonic. This procedure is more characteristic of melodies in the Viennese Classical style than in examples of the mazurka. The ternary form in this piece is simpler than in most of Chopin's other mazurkas, and the contrasting trio section begins immediately after the repetition of the first theme. Set in the relative major (A flat), the trio also consists of a single melody, the repeat of which Chopin extends through repetition to anticipate the return of the first theme. This, too, is very much unlike the trios one finds in Chopin's earlier mazurkas. The piece close abruptly with the end of the first theme.