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.
Chopin's Mazurkas, Op. 67, were assembled after the composer's death and were not intended by Chopin to be published together, if at all. No. 1, in G major, and No. 2, in C major, date from 1835. The second, in G minor, is from 1849 and the fourth, in A minor, was composed in 1846. These were printed as a set in Berlin in 1855.
For the first theme complex, Chopin combines aspects of "typical" mazurka form with European art music procedures. Chopin repeats the first eight-measure phrase, as one would expect in a mazurka, but the second sounding is varied, which is unexpected. We hear the same process in the section's second melody, all sixteen measures of which are repeated. Chopin set the trio, with its single, delicate phrase, in A major. Here, too, Chopin varies the repeat, in this case to provide a quicker return to A major (or minor) and the return of the first section. The trio contains no secondary theme and there is no coda to close the piece. In the return to the first them complex, Chopin repeats, note-for-note, the two melodies of the section, foregoing the double presentation of the second, contrasting theme. The brevity of the piece and its abrupt ending, on the second beat of the measure, come as a surprise, especially in the context of Chopin's Opp. 59 and 63 mazurkas.