About this work
The Polonaise-Fantasie has much in common with the Ballades, but still retains the basic ternary dance form and the characteristic rhythms of the polonaise. A long and improvisatory introduction leads to the initial presentation of the polonaise material. This section is not a typical dance section divided into structured phrase groups. Instead, Chopin presents a theme in polonaise style that is subjected to continuing and ongoing variation and development. The effect, especially with the complex harmonies and frequent key changes, is one of a self-generating improvisation. Unlike all the previous polonaises, there is no literal duplication of material. This long and passionate section eventually leads to slow, lyrical and introspective central Lento. This entire section represents the usual trio, but as there is no actual reprise, it cannot really be considered as such. The Lento begins with a sustained, chordal melody over a richly melodic bass part. This leads to a passage that is a return to the polonaise character, but new material. A cadenza using double trills leads in turn to a partial reprise of the Introduction and the final brilliant peroration on the Lento theme. The principal polonaise material is never fully reprised.
Although it retains something of a ternary dance structure, the effect of the Polonaise-Fantasie is of an organic improvisation that grows and develops to a climax rather than as a dance with its set sections and repetitions. This characteristic places it formally with the Ballades, even though the principal material and rhythmic drive are more clearly polonaise-like. This is an extraordinarily complex and forward-looking work. The kind of continuing variation that Chopin uses here as well as the highly chromatic and adventurous harmony anticipate the techniques of Wagner and Mahler. In spite of its somewhat loose structure, the Polonaise-Fantasie remains as one of Chopin's greatest and most effective pieces.