Frédéric Chopin

Mazurkas (4) for piano, Op. 17, CT. 60-63

    Description by Robert Cummings

    This is the first set of mazurkas Chopin wrote in Paris, and it came at a time when the composer was a struggling artist attempting to make a name for himself in the French capital, not as a Polish émigré but as a Polish exile who fully intended to return to his homeland when the political situation changed. It did not in his lifetime, and he never saw Poland again.

    The first of the mazurkas in this set, No. 10 in B flat major, features an attractive robust theme that has an aristocratic air about it -- or at least an air that calls to mind the more fashionable ballrooms of nineteenth-century Poland. The middle section is subdued in its grace and mystery, and very brief. The main theme returns and is presented in much the same way it was previously heard. By the end of this three-minute piece, its repetitions can weary the ear a bit.

    No. 11, in E minor, is marked Lento, ma non troppo, and opens with a typically ambivalent Chopin theme: it has a certain brightness and Slavic pride, but its overall manner is reflective and gloomy. The common view of Chopin in France was that here was a composer struck by homesickness, if not culture shock. Anyone needing evidence of his melancholic frame of mind need look no further than this and the next two mazurkas. A typical performance of the E minor Eleventh lasts about two-and-a-half minutes.

    The next one in the set, No. 12 in A flat major, marked Legato assai is, along with No. 35, in C minor, and No. 50, in A minor, one of the longest mazurkas Chopin wrote, lasting about six minutes in a typical performance. The main theme is lovely, but beset by a tendency to mire itself in its own suffocating beauty. The music aspires to brightness, it seems, but can only manage a grayish haze. The middle section offers sunnier prospects, but in the end does not deliver on its promise. The main theme returns and the music ends in a gentle, almost despairing mood.

    The last mazurka here, No. 13 in A minor, marked Lento, ma non troppo, is one of the composer's most touching creations. If the previous mazurka is dark and sad, this one is utterly despondent. It has beauty and moments of brightness, to be sure, but the main theme wallows in hopeless descent, wallows in bleakness. This is typical Chopin, though: his music so often seems to say life is sad and pathetic, but filled with beauty and vague hope. The middle section offers that dubious hope, but does not lead the music from the doldrums. The melancholic main theme returns and the close is beautiful but bleak, the listener held captive by Chopin's thematic and harmonic resourcefulness. This piece lasts about four or five minutes in a typical performance.

    Parts/Movements

    1. No. 10 in B flat major
    2. No. 11 in E minor
    3. No. 12 in A flat major
    4. No. 13 in A minor

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 DG Deutsche Grammophon / Mercury Classics B002456802
    2016 Brilliant Classics 95215BR
    2016 Continuo Classics 116
    2016 Steinway & Sons STNS 30071
    2016 A Life of Music Records
    2014 LP Classics 1021A/B
    2014 ATMA Classique ACD 22682
    2014 Divine Art DDA 25123
    2013 Fryderyk Chopin Institute NIFCCD 210
    2013 Broken Audio BRAU 0941
    2013 Fryderyk Chopin Institute NIFCCD 700
    2013 Warner Classics
    2012 Zephyr Z 137-10
    2012 Avie AVR 2262
    2011 RCA Red Seal 886919369120
    2011 Bridge BRIDGE 9359
    2011 Newton Classics 8802076
    2011 Newton Classics 8802038
    2011 SOMM SOMMCD 0103
    2011 Steinway & Sons 30003
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099945533
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon / DG Deutsche Grammophon 002894778445
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099996711
    2010 RCA Red Seal 88697686922
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099945535
    2010 Decca 4782282
    2010 Naïve 30494
    2009 Sony BMG / Sony Classical 88697577072
    2009 Dux Records 650
    2009 X5 Music Group 15582
    2008 Bridge 9276
    2008 EMI Classics 5754432
    2008 Brilliant Classics 93217
    2008 Mirare 075
    2008 Hyperion 44351
    2007 Centaur Records 2098/2099
    2006 Brilliant 99802
    2005 Virgin Classics
    2004 EMI Classics 85767
    2004 EMI Classics 852492A
    2003 Harmonia Mundi 2907352/53
    2003 Forlane 126817
    2003 Aura Classics 0251
    2003 Dorian 93258
    2002 Naïve 20002
    2002 Classica d'Oro 3030
    2001 Forlane 16785
    2001 Rca Red Seal 63027
    2001 Rca Red Seal 63006
    2000 Harmonia Mundi 907247/48
    2000 Centaur Records 2707
    2000 Arkadia 78590
    1999 DG Deutsche Grammophon 463 047-2GCE17
    1999 DG Deutsche Grammophon 463 054-2
    1999 Naxos 501501
    1999 Naxos 554529
    1999 Virgin / Warner Classics 7243561618
    1999 Opus 111 2007
    1999 Philips 456898
    1999 RCA Red Seal 63000
    1997 Sony Music Distribution 63237
    1997 London 443738
    1996 Concord 42036
    1996 London 448086
    1996 Decca / London 448 086-2DF2
    1996 Virgin 561317-2
    1995 London
    1994 Philips 442 574-2PM2
    1994 Naxos 550358
    1993 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 0777764933
    1993 Naxos 8505015
    1993 Sony Music Distribution 53246
    1991 RCA Victor GD60822
    Opus 111 30287
    Finnadar 91071
    Dux Records 642
    Brilliant 99802/8
    Carriere Classics 17
    Virgin 91501
    EMI Music Distribution 74457
    EMI Music Distribution 74457
    The Piano Library 242
    Arabesque 6730
    Forlane 16729
    London 417584
    Piano the Magazine 8
    RCA Victor 60822