Chopin Rondo a la Mazur in F, op. 5

performed (again) by Idil Biret, or below by Daniil Trifonov

…lovely, enthusiastic and full of grace. He who does not yet know Chopin had best begin the acquaintance with this piece…   

Robert Schumann, 1836

In listening to these pieces in order one day, I expected to be at op 6, thinking more of the style of the next piece than its number, and forgetting what exactly came after the sonata from yesterday. Being unfamiliar with the Mazurka as a form, it sounded perfectly Mazurkish enough for me, but at nine minutes in length, I realized the piece was the second rondo in the early works of Chopin, quick on the heels of his opus 1. These are two of only four rondos he wrote in his career, and this is the only one not written in 2/4 time.

It was written in 1826, while the composer was (annoyingly) only 16 years old and studying at the Warsaw conservatory; it was published two years later in 1828 and dedicated, confusingly (so I quote Wikipedia) “to the Countess Alexandrine de Moriolles, the daughter of the Comte de Moriolles, who was the tutor to the adopted son of the Grand Duke Constantine, Governor of Warsaw.” Right.
It’s a more virtuosic, show-off piece than the op. 1 of only a year before, and longer. The F major opening theme is in the rhythm of a mazurka. You remember the structure of a rondo from our post a few days ago, right? The rondo form is just that, a form, a way to organize the material in a movement or work, with nothing to say about that material, so a rondo a la Mazur isn’t any kind of contradiction. The first theme, or section, of this rondo is a mazurka, and the second theme is a contrasting theme in B flat, marked tranquillamente e cantabile. It appears a few minutes in, and it’s the more subdued, extremely lyrical melody, the one that’s still virtuosic and slightly busy but not so dancy or jumpy, more like what some people might be used to thinking of as ‘typical’ Chopin.
It might be useful at this point to share what exactly a mazurka is, as this information will be useful later. Let’s talk today only about the mazurka as a Polish tradition, not necessarily about Chopin’s mazurka’s in particular.
The mazurka is a Polish triple-meter dance, but in great contrast with something like a waltz (also a dance in triple meter), the accent is not on the first of three, but the second or third beat, and this gives the melody, the whole thing, really, this kicky, lilted, sort of really lively, interesting rhythm.
That’s a mazurka. It’s always a triplet, trill, dotted-eighth/sixteenth or something like that before two quarter notes, one of which is accented, and the dance apparently became popular in many European ballrooms. You can see just how catchy and interesting a rhythm it is.
We’ll talk more later about the mazurka, and in particular Chopin’s mazurkas, but this is our first taste of Chopin’s more patriotic music. The above description is pretty simple, but leave it to a natural talent like Chopin to really complicate and beautify things, all wrapped up and ribboned

nicely in the package of something as nicely presentable as a rondo, the second of only four he would write.

I’m not so sure how popular this piece is in the repertoire or how often it’s performed, but it was only after I decided to add these early works to our little stretch of piano music here that I had ever heard it, that I know of. The thing is, I find myself humming it (to the best of my ability), even in my head, all day, and that doesn’t bother me. It’s a quaint, magical little tune that I really can’t help but kind of love. The contrasting tune is one with a stronger lyricism than rhythm, and the two dance imaginatively together, trading places at just around the time we’re ready to have enough of one, and it does get a bit repetitive after perhaps a few listens, again, just short enough for these two themes to maintain their own weight, at around eight or nine minutes.
The thing that I think most about this piece is a very young Chopin, good taste, well-spoken, good upbringing, just kind of having come out of the womb with such an individual style. If you watched the beginning of the biography that András Schiff presented that I included in the Cm rondo article, you’ll remember he never actually really had any piano lessons. He respected Bach and Mozart, had good taste in music, but just had, from the beginning, a very individual voice, one that reinvented the Romantic piano. Schiff commented that you couldn’t write piano music the same way after Chopin came onto the scene, and as a boy of sixteen years old, a magic, a passion for the piano, and presenting something like this… is stunningly remarkable. Captivating, even. Perhaps it isn’t his most enduring composition (it most assuredly isn’t), but it has its own gripping, pleasant charm that you can’t help but smile at and enjoy, and forget about all the symbolism of what interval or what key means what and what this trill or that figure or this rhythm means, set all that aside and just enjoy the music.
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