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Valldemossa. 28 January 1839. ‘In a couple of weeks you’ll receive the Ballade, Polonaises and Scherzo’. After sending to Fontana in Paris the set of 24 Preludes that he had just completed on Majorca, Chopin was working on those four works, including two polonaises: in A major and C minor. Chopin appears to have taken the Polonaise in A major with him from Majorca to Paris. Or at least its sketch. And it was in Paris that he prepared the manuscript for print, coupling it with the Polonaise in C minor, born of the spirit of Valldemossan moods. Ultimately, the two works were notated on a single working manuscript. They form a pair of polonaises that are at once both similar – they both strike an heroic tone – and different.

In 1837, Heinrich Heine uttered that famous sentence about Chopin, beginning with the words ‘Poland gave him a chivalrous soul and the suffering of its history’. The A major Polonaise might be said to encapsulate that ‘chivalrous soul’, and the C minor Polonaise synthesise the historical suffering of the Polish nation.

The A major Polonaise could hardly be more succinct, synthetic and condensed in its style and character. It has neither an introduction nor a coda, and the theme strikes one with its firmness and grace. As Jan Kleczyński put it, ‘Each note, each accent, glows with life and power’.[i] The theme that complements the main part of the polonaise contains more of those pungent, robust sonorities, referring to the style of military music. But the pinnacle of succinctness and firmness is presented by the Polonaise’s trio, in D major. Chopin has it played energico and fortissimo. Here, too, the complementary theme brings strains of military music, evoking for many interpreters the sounds of a snare drum.

Tradition has it that Chopin imagined the A major Polonaise functioning as a coronation polonaise. The thought of Poland’s rebirth never left him for an instant. In 1848, when he was already weak and ailing, he wrote to Fontana: ‘but at the end of it all there is Poland – splendid, great… in a word: Poland. That moment is nigh, but not today. Perhaps in a month, perhaps in a year…’

 


[i] Jean Kleczynski [Jan Kleczyński], Chopin’s Greater Works, tr. Natalie Janotha (London, n.d.), 78.

Author: Mieczysław Tomaszewski
[Cykl audycji "Fryderyka Chopina Dzieła Wszystkie"]
Polish Radio, program II


 
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Polonaise in A major, Op. 40 No. 1 Op. 40 No. 1
 
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