CHOPIN Frédéric, Three Mazurkas Op.63

No. 1 in B major
No. 2 in F minor
No. 3 in C sharp minor

This group of three Mazurkas was the last set to be published during Chopin’s lifetime, appearing in 1847 with a dedication to the Countess Laure Czosnowska – a Polish friend of Chopin’s who was reputedly very beautiful and certainly much disliked by George Sand. After a visit to Chopin and Sand at Nohant (in company with the artist Delacroix, the singer Pauline Viardot and Chopin’s old friend Wojciech Grzymala), Sand told Chopin that Laure’s conversation induced migraine, and even that her dog had bad breath. By contrast, Chopin was always delighted by her company, and enjoyed the chance to talk to her in Polish.

Composed the previous year, they form a contrasted group: in terms of speed the three are marked Vivace, Lento and Allegretto. The key contrasts are more extreme: from B major to F minor and C sharp minor. In a long letter to his family dated 11 October 1846 and sent from Nohant, Chopin revealed something of his fastidious and self-critical nature in connection with the composition of these Mazurkas: ‘I have three new mazurkas, I do not think that they are too similar to the old ones … but it takes time to judge properly. When I composed them, it seemed that were good – if it were otherwise I would never write anything. But later comes reflection, and one rejects or accepts it. Time is the best judge, and patience the best master.’ Chopin’s biographer Frederick Niecks marvelled at the originality of these pieces, and he is quoted admiringly by his James Huneker, who add some further praise of his own.

Niecks believes there is a return of the early freshness and poetry in the last three Mazurkas, op. 63. ‘They are, indeed, teeming with interesting matter’, he writes. ‘Looked at from the musician’s point of view, how much do we not see novel and strange, beautiful and fascinating withal? Sharp dissonances, chromatic passing notes, suspensions and anticipations, displacement of accent, progressions of perfect fifths – the horror of schoolmen – sudden turns and unexpected digressions that are so unaccountable, so out of the line of logical sequence, that one’s following the composer is beset with difficulties. But all this is a means to an end, the expression of an individuality with its intimate experiences. The emotional content of many of these trifles – trifles if considered only by their size – is really stupendous.’ Spoken like a brave man and not a pedant! Full of vitality is the first number of op. 63. In B major, it is sufficiently various in figuration and rhythmical life to single it from its fellows. The next, in F minor, has a more elegiac ring … The third, of winning beauty, is in C sharp minor … I defy anyone to withstand the pleading, eloquent voice of this Mazurka.

It was also the mazurkas that produced one of Schumann’s most memorable descriptions of Chopin’s music, presenting them not as experiments in a traditional dance form, but as acts of resistance against the Russian Empire that had suppressed Poland in 1830 (precipitating Chopin’s move to Paris): ‘Fate rendered Chopin still more individual and interesting in endowing him with an original, pronounced nationality: Polish. And because this nationality wanders in mourning robes in the thoughtful artist it deeply attracts us … If the powerful Autocrat of the North knew what a dangerous enemy threatens him in Chopin’s works, in the simple melodies of his mazurkas, he would forbid music. Chopin’s works are cannons buried in flowers.’

Nigel Simeone 2010


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