Genres Genres

Other dances

Dances-piano miniatures and dance poems-occupy a very important place in the Chopin oeuvre. Clearly to the fore in this domain are such genres as the mazurka, polonaise and waltz, examples of which Chopin composed in abundance throughout his life. Yet it is worth remembering that he also turned occasionally to other dance genres, seeking inspiration in then fashionable Spanish, Italian, French, Scottish and Ukrainian dances. And although Chopin gave absolute priority in his oeuvre to national Polish dances and to waltzes, popular across the whole of Europe, it was by occasionally composing other dances that he showed he was well orientated in the repertoire of the salons, ballrooms and concert halls of Europe.

The rhythms of the Polish krakowiak appear in such works as the Concerto in
E minor and the  Rondo à la krakowiak [see Concertos and Works for piano and orchestra]. During this same, youthful, period we find traces of his interest in the Ukrainian kolomyika, motifs of which Chopin occasionally wove into larger-scale works (including the Fantasy on Polish Airs, Op. 13 for piano and orchestra). Also in Warsaw, around 1827, Chopin composed 3 Ecossaises (in D major, G major and
D flat major), dances of British origins written by the young Fryderyk in the convention of salon music: 'pleasant, well-formed and superficial' (Tomaszewski). Classical traditions were referred to by the young composer in his Sonata in C minor, Op. 4, where he included a minuet (the only one in his entire oeuvre). Mention should also be made of the Country Dance in G flat major, the authenticity of which, previously questioned, has recently been demonstrated.

In the opinion of many commentators, these dances are mostly among Chopin's less successful works or early works, marking rather the margins of his oeuvre. However, two compositions from his mature years stand out, both intended for publication:

  • Bolero in A minor, Op. 19, composed in 1833, published in 1834
  • Tarantella in A flat major, Op. 43, written and published in 1841

In writing the Bolero in A minor, Op. 19, Chopin turned to the tradition of a Spanish dance in 3/4 time with a distinctive rhythm. The result was a work of considerable proportions, pianistically dazzling, opening with a bravura introduction and crowned with a coda. Due to some similarity between the then fashionable Spanish bolero and the Polish polonaise, some critics have pointed to analogies with the polonaise in this work. As for Chopin's success in depicting the flavour of Spanish music, opinions are divided, yet there is no question that this work-adhering to the current of the style brillant-is unfortunately performed but rarely.

The much later Tarantella in A flat major, Op. 43 is also considered a composition of lesser calibre, and Chopin himself treated it with irony. Turning to the convention of
a lively triple-time Italian dance in a rapid tempo, Chopin created a work that is exceptionally exuberant and difficult to play. In the case of the Tarantella the accuracy of the stylisation is often questioned by commentators, although this does not alter the fact that this work is apt to win over listeners with its remarkable virtuosity, temperament, full sound and formal coherence.

Artur Bielecki