Mazurka No.23

Frédéric Chopin

Mazurka No.23 in D major

Op. 33/2, B. 115/2

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 than the earlier ones 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.

Composed in 1837-8, Chopin's Four Mazurkas, Op. 33, are in G sharp minor, D major, C major and B minor. They were first published in 1838 in Leipzig.

One the longest of Chopin's mazurkas, the Mazurka in D major, Op. 33, No. 2, begins without an introduction. Its opening eight-measure theme is a spinning out of rising and falling eighth notes that remains solidly in D major. Instead of providing contrasting thematic material in the first section, Chopin transposes the first theme to the dominant, creating only harmonic contrast. The usual "rounding" return of the opening material occurs, then Chopin proceeds to the trio after a presenting new melody, in B flat major/minor. An aggressive, insistent rhythmic cell creates drastic contrast with the preceding fluid melodies, while the reiteration of this cell not only hypnotizes the listener but provides a transition to the trio, the first theme of which maintains the same rhythm. Such repetition is a device we find with increasing frequency in the mazurkas from Op. 33 on. The reprise of the first half includes the transposed segment, after which Chopin embarks on another passage of reiteration: he repeats the final note of the theme over a recurrent rhythmic pattern and drone bass to create a coda that leaves no doubt the piece is in D major.

The D major Mazurka is notable because its outer sections are completely diatonic, contributing to a rustic atmosphere, while the trio provides the kind of harmonic contrast we are more likely to find in European "art" music. Also, it is unusual for Chopin to include such a significant coda in a mazurka that does not close a published set.