Chopin's Mazurkas - Part 2

This article is part 6 of 19 in the 2022 music project series.
This article is part 2 of 4 in the Reviewing Chopin's mazurkas series.
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Once again I'm returning to Chopin's Mazurkas, starting where I left off at the tenth mazurka: Op. 17, No. 1.

The Mazurkas

Quatre Mazurkas

For a mademoiselle Lina Freppa, of course

Op. 17, No. 1 in B♭ major

Starting off with a forzando is something new. Very minuet-ish sounding, with the chromatic passing tones in the first few bars. The chromatic thirds remind me of Beethoven's Minuet in G1 which I played a million years ago.

06-chopin-mazurkas-op17-01-main-theme.png (image/png, 459x146, 5,567 bytes)
Op. 17, No. 1 main theme with chromatic thirds
06-chopin-mazurkas-op17-01-beethoven-minuet.png (image/png, 567x141, 5,097 bytes)
Beethoven's Minuet in G, WoO 10, No. 2

The main theme is revisited in measure 17 with some different harmonies. Pretty neat mechanic to make a normally boring repeat actually stand out. This same harmony was repeated the third time through the main theme.

06-chopin-mazurkas-op17-01-main-theme-harmonies.png (image/png, 465x149, 10,850 bytes)
Op. 17, No. 1 main theme revisited with extra harmony

The "bridge" modulates to E♭ major, and changes to a very soft and warm sound as opposed to the almost march-like dynamic range of the previous sections.

This section ends with what sounds like a section from his most famous Nocturne: Op. 9, No. 2. Maybe just because it's in the same key with a descending chromatic before resolving to the tonic, but my mind immediately went to the nocturne.

06-chopin-mazurkas-op17-01-eflat-end.png (image/png, 337x132, 4,228 bytes)
End of the E♭ section in Op. 17, No. 1
06-chopin-mazurkas-op17-01-eflat-end-nocturne.png (image/png, 668x175, 6,575 bytes)
Excerpt from Op. 9, No. 2 (Nocturne in E♭)

And finally, in true mazurka fashion, it repeats the first ⅔ of the piece and then ends.

Op. 17, No. 2 in E minor

Contrary to the previous mazurka, this one is more melancholy and slow. And once again, we have a discrepancy in the score within the first few measures (similar to the A minor mazurka from Part 1). The performance I'm listening to2 does not articulate each B note, but instead ties them all together.

06-chopin-mazurkas-op17-02-tied-b.png (image/png, 414x134, 9,355 bytes)
Phantom B's in Op. 17, No. 2?

From a brief search through YouTube:

  • Rubenstein plays each B note3
  • Janina Fialkowska ties the B notes4
  • Yundi Li plays each B note5
  • Aimi Kobayashi ties the B notes6
  • Chenyin Li plays each B note7

My conclusion is that it seems to be a stylistic choice of whether to articulate each B or tie them together. How exciting.


A brief section as it transitions back into the main theme has a bunch of repeated quarter note block chords in a kind of ascending-chromatic eventually leading back to Em. Chopin did something similar several years later in his B♭ minor Sonata.

06-chopin-mazurkas-op17-02-block-chords.png (image/png, 513x132, 5,487 bytes)
Block chords leading back to main theme in Op. 17, No. 2
06-chopin-mazurkas-op17-02-block-chords-sonata.png (image/png, 620x155, 7,933 bytes)
Simliar-ish block chords in the first movement of Chopin's Sonata No. 2 in B♭ Minor

The same block chords with subtle chromatic changes can also be seen in every 1st or 2nd year student's favorite: the E minor prelude. Although that one's a bit more subtle since it's slower and stretched out over multiple measures.

Op. 17, No. 3 in A♭ major

This opening chord progression of G°7 resolving to A♭ was also used in his previous A♭ major mazurka, Op. 7, No. 4. Although I guess tonally it was more of a D♭m chord, but it still used the ♭6 in the key of A♭.

06-chopin-mazurkas-op17-03-fflat.png (image/png, 668x131, 6,970 bytes)
G°7 in opening measures of Op. 17, No. 3
06-chopin-mazurkas-op17-03-fflat-op7.png (image/png, 427x149, 5,706 bytes)
Similar chord progression from opening measures of Op. 7, No. 4

The main theme features a lot of diminshed chords. Well, two of them, but given that there are only three °7 chords, 2/3 seems like a lot.

This is by far the most repetitive of all the mazurkas so far. Two long-ish sections have full repeats with 1st and 2nd endings, and then it goes back to the beginning. Not to mention the main theme is quite repetitive on its own. Blrugh.

Op. 17, No. 4 in A minor

This one starts off kind of unusually. The left hand is playing some kind of F Lydian thing, while the right hand is vaguely in A minor

06-chopin-mazurkas-op17-04-intro.png (image/png, 472x121, 4,711 bytes)
Introductory measures from Op. 17, No. 4

I also feel like this one might be kind of famous, as the chromatic descending line in the main theme sounds incredibly familiar.8

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Descending chromatic line from main theme

We also get to see some classic Chopin-esque rubato passages.

06-chopin-mazurkas-op17-04-rubato.png (image/png, 527x131, 3,905 bytes)
One of the classic Chopin rubato passages from Op. 17, No. 4

Later on we get a modulation to A major with some more pedal tones in both hands. This section ends with an ascending E mixolydian scale that leads to the ♭9, which takes us back to the main theme in that weird F Lydian-type mode.

06-chopin-mazurkas-op17-04-ascending-e.png (image/png, 787x165, 18,515 bytes)
Ascending E mixolydian leading to F♮

Eventually ends with a callback to the intro and softly fades out on that inquisitive F chord (Am♭6?).

Downloads


  1. Performance + score of Beethoven's Minuet in G on YouTube
  2. Performed by Janina Fialkowska
  3. Rubenstein's performance on YouTube
  4. Fialkowska's performance on YouTube
  5. Yundi Li's performance on YouTube
  6. Kobayashi's performance in the 2015 Chopin competition on YouTube
  7. Chenyin Li's performance on YouTube
  8. According to Wikipedia, Op. 17, No. 4 is in fact "one of the more popular mazurkas of all Chopins' mazurkas", and was featured in the movie Empire of the Sun.