He called them “little stories,” and Chopin’s three Opus 56 Mazurkas use the dance form of his native Poland to evoke the past and to dream of the future.
Chopin had a lifelong attraction to dance types. Some held his interest more than others. The Bolero - Chopin wrote one. Three Écossaises. Four Scherzos. 20 Waltzes. The Mazurka? Fifty-seven – more than anything else.
Chopin described the Mazurka as the realm where “love and the melancholy of the land meet”. Each one is subtly crafted, and finely detailed. They’re little drops of art. So distinctive that the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw even hands out a special Mazurka prize.
Chopin biographer James Huneker wrote, “They are…the only out-of-doors music Chopin ever made. But even in the open…the note of self-torture, of sophisticated sadness is not absent. Do not accuse Chopin, for this is the sign-manual of his race. The Pole suffers in song the joy of his sorrow.”
You hear both the joy and the sorrow in all three of Chopin’s Opus 56 Mazurkas. The first is talkative, but wistful, even nostalgic.
Chopin attempts to snap out of it in the next Mazurka - a kind of rowdy peasant scene - you can practically hear the bagpipes. But it, too, fades to a darker shade of reminiscing.
By the third Mazurka, Chopin has transformed the simple, rustic form into a tapestry of dense melodies, daring harmonies and ever more longing. The emotional language is complex. And the future of music is audible. - Joe Brant