Like the polonaise, the mazurka has its roots in folklore and dance. The name is taken from the Mazurs, the people of the province of Mazovia, near Warsaw. And, like the polonaise, the mazurka traveled from its modest origin amongst the folk of Poland to the fashionable ballrooms of cities as far off as Paris and London. In Russia, the mazurka found a place in the keyboard works of such composers as Glinka, Borodin, and Tchaikovsky. The dance found its greatest exponent in Chopin, who published 41 mazurkas in his lifetime. In fact, his preoccupation with the mazurka lasted from his first attempt at the age of ten in 1820, to the year of his death in 1849.
Chopin published his Four Mazurkas Op. 30 in December 1837. No. 4 in C-sharp minor, like many of his works, begins in a state of tonal ambiguity before settling on the first theme in C-sharp minor. Two more themes hovering around G-sharp minor and B major follow. After a nearly imperceptible return of the first theme, a coda of chromatic descent winds its way to the end.
Mazurka Op. 41, No. 4 in A-flat opens with a waltz-like theme. The middle section breaks from the waltz pattern into a contrapuntally dense texture. A single voice of the waltz melody brings back the first theme.
The first theme group of Mazurka Op. 59, No. 1 in A minor is again waltz-like. The texture and key change in the middle section to A major and full-bodied chords that become increasingly contrapuntal. The first theme returns, leading to a coda that brings the piece to a quiet conclusion.
Steve Lacoste is Archivist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.