Chopin's Mazurkas - Part 8

This article is part 49 of 52 in the 2022 music project series.
This article is part 8 of 9 in the Reviewing Chopin's mazurkas series.
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I only have a few weeks left before the end of the year, so I need to finish listening to the non-posthumous mazurkas or else I'll never forgive myself for being a quitter. I have 9 left. This week is Op. 56 and Op. 59. A double dose.

Trois Mazurkas

For à Mlle C. Maberly.

Op. 56, No. 1 in B major

The intro has some very strange modulation from B major to G major, and then eventually transitioning into the classic 7♭5 (one of my favorites from previous articles), which leads to F♯9 and then we're back in B. Nice. This is also a classic example of "tritone chord substitution" that jazz people will ramble on about as if it's some magical property beyond the realm of understanding unless you're teaching at Berklee. The real trick is to simply understand that (for example, in this particular excerpt) G7♭5 and C♯7♭5 contain all the same notes (enharmonically), which is why the "substitution" part works.

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G → C♯7♭5 → F♯9 → B

And then an awkward key change from B to E♭. I feel like there's some theory there, but I don't know what it is. Chopin did the same thing in the Finale of his 3rd Sonata, in the middle section I think.

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Abrupt key change from B(7) → E♭ in Op. 56, No. 1
49-chopin-mazurkas-08-op56-no1-key-change-sonata.png (image/png, 629x171, 10,236 bytes)
The same abrupt key change from B(7) → E♭ in Chopin's Sonata No. 3, Finale

The E♭ section is quite flighty and frivolous, and is later mimicked in the key of G.

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Legato section in E♭
49-chopin-mazurkas-08-op56-no1-legato-g.png (image/png, 491x130, 5,401 bytes)
Legato section in G, later in the piece

Op. 56, No. 2 in C major

The main theme of this one is quite lame. Lots of block chords in the left hand and an incoherent melody. But the B section has a pretty sweet little countermelody to it.

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Some LH block chords in the main theme
49-chopin-mazurkas-08-op56-no2-countermelody.png (image/png, 571x148, 5,898 bytes)
LH takes over the melody in the B section

Op. 56, No. 3 in C minor

This main theme sounds very familiar, like it was used in a movie or something.1

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Main theme to Op. 56, No. 3

Eventually we get to something with a lot more accidentals. My score has a D♭7 with a C♭ on top which repeats itself with a B♮ in the next chord. The recording sounds different from what I have written, so that obviously warrants more investigation. But mostly I was reminded of Op. 24, No. 4 that had almost the same weird spelling and I hunted down the original manuscript to see what was what. From my brief research, the C♭ is pretty much never performed and is usually a C♮. The scores I found seemed to be about 50/50.

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A C♭ in my score
49-chopin-mazurkas-08-op56-no3-cnat.png (image/png, 258x125, 6,080 bytes)
The C♮ that is most often performed

Some more fun enharmonic spelling in my score in the leadup back to the main theme, with a G♯ tied to an A♭. That kind of thing always amuses me.

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Enharmonic spelling in the transition back to C minor

Trois Mazurkas

Op. 59, No. 1 in A minor

More 7♭5 goodness in the A section, although it doesn't lead to anything that makes sense. But it wouldn't be a mazurka if it made sense.

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F♯7♭5 leads to E or something?

The B section has some rather abrupt chord progressions. Definitely a mazurka.

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Chromatic chord progression in the B section

Some mildly interesting RH-LH call/response things with lots of descending chromatics break up the monotony of confusing chord transitions.

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Descending chromatic-ish scales in each hand

And finally, I would never forgive myself if I didn't mention all the 7♭5 chords in the coda.

49-chopin-mazurkas-08-op59-no1-coda.png (image/png, 778x138, 6,486 bytes)
It's not a mazurka without some juicy 7♭5 chords

Op. 59, No. 2 in A♭ major

I kinda liked the little descending legato leading back to the main theme. Very Chopin-esque. The same little motif is repeated with a slightly different ending to lead-in to the C section.

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Descending run leading back to the main theme
49-chopin-mazurkas-08-op59-no2-leadin2.png (image/png, 528x151, 6,700 bytes)
The same descending run with a slight twist leading in to the C section

A glut of chromatic accidentals prepares you for the coda.

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Lots of chromatic accidentals in the Coda

Op. 59, No. 3 in F♯ minor

That B♯ in the first bar confused me, I had to listen to it twice since it sounded so odd. Seems to just be passing tone, but it definitely lends something exotic to the opening. And of course everyone's favorite makes an appearance: the V of the V.

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Main theme with a random B♯
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V of the V never fails to disappoint: G♯7 → C♯7 → F♯m

The triplets established by the theme make another appearance in the left-hand as we it takes us back to the main theme later in the piece.

49-chopin-mazurkas-08-op59-no3-triplets.png (image/png, 785x172, 10,252 bytes)
LH triplets take us back to the beginning

Overall this one was okay. I liked the use of the lower register of the keyboard. Most of the mazurkas seem to remain in the middle.

  1. As far as I can tell, no, it's not used in anything. How uninteresting.