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 traditional 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 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.
Although the basic structural aspects we find in Chopin's early mazurkas are present in the more mature works of Op. 33, the proportions of those earlier works are greatly expanded in their younger siblings. The fourth of the Op. 33 set, in B minor, begins with a two-part, lyrical melody that spins out over a span of twenty-four measures. Chopin repeats this passage in full; thus, forty-eight measures pass before the contrasting theme appears. When it does appear, the contrast is drastic, created by loud, aggressive chords, dotted rhythms and a harmony that pivots between B flat major and E flat minor. After the very brief contrasting theme we hear a literal repeat of both themes in their entirety.
The B major trio, with its delicate, chromatic opening melody, is also sprawling. The device of reiteration Chopin uses in Op. 33, No. 2 appears in No. 4 and is most notable at the end of the trio, where a single melodic and rhythmic cell appears twelve times in eighteen measures, without accompaniment, making the figure even more prominent. This figure, drawn from the beginning of the trio, stands in for the typical, "rounding" return of the first trio theme. After the final, literal, return of the main theme, the piece closes with a coda that metrically stretches the falling fifth motive that closes the main theme.