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Dating from Chopin’s last years in Warsaw, or possibly from the Warsaw-Vienna period, is a Polonaise composed in the key of G flat major – a rare key for Chopin. Something of a forgotten work, Chopin himself did not have it published. Issued in 1870 by the Mainz firm of Schott and the Warsaw firm of Kaufmann, it was accepted by some, but rejected by others. Its authenticity was questioned by the eminent Chopin scholar and monographer Frederick Niecks, whose voice carried considerable weight. It took research carried out by Zdzisław Jachimecki, presented at a session of the PAN [Polish Academy of Sciences] and published under the title ‘Obrona autentyczności Poloneza Ges-dur Chopina’ [In defence of the authenticity of the Polonaise in G flat major by Chopin], to restore confidence in the work’s authenticity. At the time when Jachimecki was using stylistic methods to defend that authenticity, no one could have known that twenty years hence irrefutable proof would be found. In 1958, a list of Chopin’s unpublished works compiled by his sister, Ludwika Jędrzejewicz, came to light. The Polonaise in G flat major was included on that list, along with its opening four bars.

Although similar in atmosphere to Chopin’s three well-known youthful polonaises, this piece does bring a distinctly new tone to his polonaise output. That tone was captured well by Tadeusz Zieliński in his profile of the work: ‘The eight-bar preface, using very simple techniques, sets a mood of tension and conflict: the octave quasi tremolo in the bass triggers associations with strikes on a snare drum […] The theme, shrouded in gloom in the opening motives, suddenly gains a more powerful sound in the second sentence and grows, taking on the expression of dogged resistance and heroism’. Zieliński goes on to write of a striking textural and even motivic similarity with the three later ‘heroic’ polonaises, especially – in the culminating chords of both hands – the Polonaise in A major. He also puts forward an interesting supposition to account for the distinctness or otherness of this Polonaise. With regard to the date of the work’s composition, he claims there is much to suggest that it was written not immediately before the outbreak of the November Rising, but just after it began, as Chopin’s first, immediate reaction to that event. Hence emotions dominated here over artistry. Zieliński’s hypothesis seems highly likely, though it remains just a hypothesis. When listening to this music, in which masterful moments filled with expression clash with others that are affected and almost banal, we can check for ourselves, in an individual, subjective way, whether or not we are indeed dealing with a work through which Chopin was reacting to an event of primary importance in the history of his native land – an event that also left its mark on his own life.

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


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Polonaise in G flat major [Op. posth.] [op. posth.]
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