Of all the genres that Chopin wrote in, perhaps the most personal is the mazurka, which recalls the rhythms, modes, and characteristics of Polish music, allowing the listener to experience a sense of the composer's native land. Combining the influences of classical Polish music with the traditional dances -- namely, the Mazur, the Kujawiak, and the Oberek -- the mazurka allowed for a variety of compositional approaches and combinations. The result is a collection of 57 distinct short pieces, each with its own personality and flavor. The collection as a whole stands as an important part of the modern piano repertoire.
Op. 41 marks the halfway point in the compositional development of Chopin's mazurkas, and in it we can see more daring experiments in mode, form, and character. The opening piece of the collection is in the Phrygian mode, and the form is enlarged to a rondo. A recurring theme includes a subtle melody line that expands and soars by the end of each phrase. This mazurka's contrasting sections include a more lively and dance-like passage and a more dramatic and frenzied portion. Ending with a coda, the piece simply melts away. Hymn-like in its beginning, the second mazurka develops into an expression of pure joy. Chopin maintains a rich chordal texture throughout the piece. The third piece of the set is rather brief, with a contrast between the recurring opening rhythmic chordal figure and the energetic, arching melody. The final mazurka is very much a waltz, friendly and warm in character.