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6.6: Music of Fryderyk Chopin

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    54353
  • Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849) grew up in and around Warsaw, Poland, son of a French father and Polish mother. His family was a member of the educated middle class; consequently, Chopin had contact with academics and wealthier members of the gentry and middle class. He learned as much as he could from the composition instructors in Warsaw—including the keyboard music of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven—before deciding to head off on a European tour in 1830. The first leg of the tour was Vienna, where Chopin expected to give concerts and then head further west. About a week after his arrival, however, Poland saw political turmoil in the Warsaw uprising, which eventually led to Russian occupation of his home country. After great efforts, Chopin secured a passport and, in the summer of 1831, traveled to Paris, which would become his adopted home. Paris was full of Polish émigrés, who were well received within musical circles. After giving a few public concerts, Chopin was able to focus his attention on the salons, salons being smaller, semi-private events, similar to soirées, generally hosted by aristocratic women for artistic edification. There and as a teacher, he was in great demand and could charge heavy fees.

    Much like Robert and Clara Schumann, Chopin’s first compositions were de- signed to impress his audiences with his virtuoso playing. As he grew older and more established, his music became more subtle. Also, like the Schumanns, he composed pieces appropriate in difficulty for the musical amateur as well as work for virtuosos such as himself. Unlike many of the other composers we have discussed, Chopin wrote piano music almost exclusively. He was best known for character pieces, such as mazurkas, waltzes, nocturnes, etudes, ballades, polonaises, and preludes.

    Focus Composition:

    Chopin Mazurka in F Minor, Op. 7, No. 1 (1832)

    The composition on which we will focus is the Mazurka in F minor, Op. 7, no. 1, which was published in Leipzig in 1832 and then in Paris and London in 1833. The mazurka is a Polish dance, and mazurkas were rather popular in Western Europe as exotic stylized dances. Mazurkas are marked by their triple meter in which beat two rather than beat one gets the stress. They are typically composed in strains and are homophonic in texture. Chopin sometimes incorporated folk-like sounds in his ma- zurkas, sounds such as drones and augmented seconds. A drone is a sustained pitch or pitches. The augmented second is an interval that was commonly used in Eastern Eu- ropean folk music but very rarely in the tonal music of Western European composers.

    Screen Shot 2020-06-24 at 11.19.17 PM.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{11}\): Fryderyk Chopin by Eugène Delacroix. Source: Wikimedia

    All of these characteristics can be heard in the Mazurka in F minor, Op. 7, No. 1, together with the employment of rubato. Chopin was the first composer to widely request that pianists use rubato when playing his music.

    Listening Guide

    For audio, go to:

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKgM1SkMiqY

    Performed by Arthur Rubinstein on piano

    Composer: Fryderyk Chopin
    Composition: Mazurka in F minor, Op. 7, no. 1
    Date: 1836
    Genre: piano character piece
    Form: aaba’ba’ca’ca’
    Nature of Text: the title indicates a stylized dance based on the Polish mazurka
    Performing Forces: solo piano

    What we want you to remember about this composition:

    • This mazurka is in triple time with emphasis on beat two
    • The texture is homophonic
    • Chopin asks the performer to use rubato

    Other things to listen for:

    • Its “c” strain uses a drone and augmented seconds
    • Its form is aaba’ba’ca’ca’
    Timing Performing Forces, Melody, and Texture Text and Form

    8:23

    Triple-meter theme ascends up the scale and then descends and then repeats; brief ornaments on beat two of the measure.

    In F minor, with homophonic boom-chuck texture.

    aa

    8:57

    After a contrasting theme that oscil- lates, part of the first theme returns in a’.

    ba’

    9:24 'ba

    9:53

    Folk-like melody using augmented seconds.
    Listen for the drone as well as ruba- to (which Chopin asks for here).

    c

    9:36 a
    9:53 C returns, then a ca
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