COMPOSITIONS compositions


The second of the Op. 59 Mazurkas, in A flat major, brings music that is equally unforgettable, expressed in a form that appears remarkably simple, but in actual fact is rather elaborate. On the surface, we have an ordinary dance with trio and coda, consisting of nothing more than two contrasting themes. But as the narrative unfolds, before our very eyes, the opening theme is transformed as in a ballade. It is marked by a certain dose of dignity and imbued with emotion that is barely restrained. Yet this character is only fully manifest in its further appearances. The first time around, it sounds gentle, dolce and modest, though that dignity – expressed through syncopations and rhythms held in check – is already signalling its presence. On its next appearance, the mazur melody is strengthened and harmonised by sixths and thirds. Finally – though more than once – it returns momentarily in the piano’s cello register, only to shoot off again a moment later towards high, full sonorities. In the midst of all this, music of the character of a trio appears: expressed mezza voce, it repeats the same soaring phrase over and over again. One admires the harmonic refinement of the bars that precede the (epiloguing) coda of this Mazurka, filled with the ‘sequential’ repetition of a single motif on various degrees of the chromaticised scale.

A certain ‘romantic’ story is linked to the A flat major Mazurka. Towards the end of 1844, Chopin received a short letter from Felix Mendelssohn. During their first years in Paris, those two composers, together with Liszt, Hiller, Berlioz and Bellini, created a musical ‘Romantic movement’. Mendelssohn later left Paris, and thereafter he and Chopin met only sporadically. Mendelssohn wrote:  ‘My dear Chopin, This letter comes to you to ask a favour. Would you out of friendship write a few bars of music, sign your name at the bottom to show you wrote them for my wife (Cécile M.-B.), and send them to me? It was at Frankfort that we last met you and I was then engaged: since that time, whenever I wish to give my wife a great pleasure I have to play to her, and her favourite works are those you have written.’[i] Chopin, albeit with a certain delay, met the request. ‘Just try hard to imagine, my dear friend, that I am writing by return of post […] If the little sheet of music is not too dog-eared and does not arrive too late, please present it from me to Mrs Mendelssohn’.[ii] That little sheet of music, happily preserved, was the autograph of the A flat major Mazurka.

[i] Letter from Felix Mendelssohn to Fryderyk Chopin, Berlin, 3 November 1844, quoted in Selected Correspondence of Fryderyk Chopin, tr. and ed. Arthur Hedley (London, 1962), 242.

[ii] Letter from Chopin to Mendelssohn, Nohant, 8 October 1845, quoted in ibid, 255.


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


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Kevin Kenner

Mazurka in A flat major, Op. 59 No. 2
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