Mazurka No.41

Frédéric Chopin

Mazurka No.41 in C# minor

Op. 63/3, B. 162/3

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.

The last of the set, in C sharp minor, begins with one of the composer's most charming melodies. Part of its attraction derives from the sense that Chopin has "omitted" the first three notes of the tune's beginning from a reiterated sequence that climbs slowly to a peak. The second half of the first theme complex is far more chromatic than the first, and moves ahead into the trio without the expected "rounding" return of the opening idea.

Chopin shifts to the tonic major by writing the trio in D flat (enharmonic with C sharp major). The very narrow range of the trio melody contrasts with the rising and falling main theme, which, of course returns to close the piece.

For the reprise of the main theme, Chopin restores the "missing" notes and includes a canonic development in the second half of the theme, the lead voice one beat ahead of the following voice. The strictness of the brief canon produces expressively dissonant intervals that make the melody more prominent. Here we have yet another example of Chopin ostentatiously using a learned device in what was considered a folk idiom.