COMPOSITIONS compositions

Mazurka in A minor, Op. 17 No. 4 incypit

Genre: Mazurka

Key: A minor

Opus/WN: Op. 17 No. 4

Creation date: 1830-1833

Acc. to Paderewski: X/13

Acc. to Turło: 63

Instruments: piano

Composition dedicated to:

Lina Freppa


The Mazurka in A minor, the fourth and last work of opus 17, is a real masterpiece, in the form of a dance poem. The music here emerges from silence and to silence returns, beginning and ending sotto voce. It opens with four mysterious bars filled with the music of chords that seem unaware of their further course. They are followed by an unforgettable theme played espressivo, without doubt of Cuiavian provenance. But this is not a cliché or a mirror; it is a nostalgic recollection, something like an awakening from slumber or deep cogitation, seeking a path, timidly, hesitantly. This theme returns a couple of times, interleaved by different music – more concrete and real. Each time, it returns the same, yet not the same; endlessly modified, yet always retaining that dreamy aura. This ‘cogitation’ of the principal theme is twice interrupted. First with a couple of bars of music that all of a sudden is markedly lively and dance-like. Perhaps we are beholding the reflection of some dance played in Szafarnia?

The second entrance of different music brings a new mood: in the bright key of A major, the motif of a mazurka comes in. Chopin has it played at first dolce (gently). But its ambling mazur melody is led along over an insistently repeated – for thirty bars – bass fifth, and in places even two fifths. And that motif is repeated ad infinitum, not insistently, but obsessively… up to the point of climax, but also of revolt, protest or outcry. And then – again timidly, hesitantly – we return to the opening motif, to the spinning out of the intermittent melody of that oneiric kujawiak. This is followed by just a couple of bars of an epilogue that dies away and – the return of the opening bars, with their unresolved question mark.

The Mazurka in A minor has caused monographers and Chopin scholars quite some difficulty on account of the legend that surrounds it. The work’s origins were linked with certain passages in letters sent by the fourteen-year-old Chopin from Szafarnia, in which he gave accounts of the impression he made when playing a dance that he called ‘Żydek’ [The little Jew]. Family tradition linked that dance with the A minor Mazurka. In the opinion of some eminent Chopin scholars – Leichtentritt, Jachimecki, Paskhalov – certain melodic phrases and dance gestures possess elements of oriental melodies of a lamenting character. For Leichtentritt, no one has more aptly captured and expressed the sonorities that are characteristic of Jewish folk music. Well, even if the ‘Jewish’ legend is true, as it certainly may be, we must separate – as two different works or two different versions of one work – that youthful stylisation or cliché from the work composed seven or eight years later, in Paris – a masterly work that is a far cry from all imitation. It is hard to deny that music heard in Szafarnia, Mazovia or Cuiavia does indeed peep through the music of the A minor Mazurka. But it does only peep – as a distant echo, a movingly nostalgic recollection, highly original and personal.

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


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