Genres Genres


With Elsner, composition studies began with the polonaise, but it was immediately followed by rondos and variations

The rondo appeared in the Chopin oeuvre as an autonomous work on five occasions, in his youthful years in Warsaw and subsequently in his early Parisian period (1833). It is this musical form that carries the opus number 1: the Rondo in C minor, by the fifteen-year-old Fryderyk, written and published in 1825. So the rondos composed by Chopin are on the one hand testimony to the young composer acquainting himself with one of the basic classical forms (the rondo of the Viennese Classics: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and their imitators), but on the other hand a way of composing in the dazzling and then fashionable style brillant, which for the young pianist Fryderyk was a matter of considerable importance. In his later years, however, the mature composer of the scherzos, ballades and études eschewed the genre of the free-standing rondo. The rondos which he had composed earlier played no greatly significant role in his oeuvre and are generally referred to as youthful or virtuosic pieces demonstrating the "classical" aspect of his compositional training.

Whilst familiarising himself with the basics of the classical rondo (reiterations of a refrain separated by a succession of couplets), the young Chopin also observed features of the style brillant in rondos by such composers as Hummel and Weber. This gave him the model for shaping the pianistic lustre of his own works. His very first effort, the Rondo in C minor, Op. 1 (1825), although just a modest piece by a budding composer, is already marked by a graceful brilliance. And yet in this early work it is difficult to discern any traits of Chopin's future style, and the melodic inventiveness is rather limited.

A much weightier composition is the Rondo à la Mazur, Op. 5, from 1828. This is a work of greater dimensions, displaying a more advanced pianistic style. It is also the first rondo in which the composer turns to the stylisation of national dances. Here, "folk" moments (the "Lydian fourth" in the melody, the stylisation of a country ensemble) go hand in hand with highly bravura virtuoso parts. Written at the same time was another work of similar conception, which may be regarded as a more accomplished example of this genre in the Chopin oeuvre: the Rondo à la Krakowiak, Op. 14, with its brilliant stylisation of another national dance [see Works for piano and orchestra].

Also dating from the Warsaw period is the Rondo in C major (1828), not published by Chopin, only issued after his death, in 1855. This work exists in two versions: for solo piano and for two pianos. It has not been widely acclaimed, although its music is effective and at times quite striking.

The last free-standing rondo in Chopin's output was written in 1833, in Paris (Rondo in E flat major, Op. 16). This does not, however, play any role in the development of his music, representing a fleeting return to the style brillant which the composer had by then largely abandoned. Although quite sparkling, it is equally conventional in its range of compositional means, which explains why it is rarely performed.

The rondo also appears in Chopin's music on many occasions as a form in his cyclical compositions. For example, a rondo structure is displayed by the finale movements of both piano concertos and the marvellous Finale of the B minor Sonata, Op. 58. A closer analysis of Chopin's works also reveals rondo influences in other genres.

Artur Bielecki