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.
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's mazurkas are far more advanced than those by his contemporaries. Chopin borrowed sounds he found outside the European "art" music tradition and used them to create music within that tradition. Some consider Chopin's mazurkas to be the most original of his works.
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.
By the time Chopin composed his Four Mazurkas, Op. 24, in 1832-3, he had become the darling of the musical establishment in Paris. The four pieces, in G minor, C major, A flat major and B flat minor, were published in 1836 in Leipzig.
In the second of the set, Chopin's four-measure introduction at once establishes C major as the tonic and creates a rustic atmosphere through the open fifths in the left hand. Also, the repetition of two chords makes the passage sound as if it is in duple, not triple, meter. Two four-measure themes follow: the first leaps upward then falls in arpeggios and is repeated, the second moves mostly stepwise, ends with repeated notes and is also repeated.
The longest modal passage in Chopin's music occurs in this Mazurka. The soaring, eight-measure theme of the of the second half of the first section is harmonized with F major. However, there are no B flats to be found, creating a Lydian sound for sixteen measures. As we would expect, the return of the opening themes rounds out the section, which Chopin closes ingeniously by extending the repeated-note fragment and again producing a duple-meter feel, as in the introduction, but this time through accents.
Chopin gives the trio great harmonic weight by setting it in D flat major, the Neapolitan of C major. He closes this section by again using repeated notes, generally open fifths. After a return to the main themes, the Mazurka ends with a reprise of the introduction and its metric ambiguity, hesitantly closing solidly in C major.