It is universally agreed that the piano pieces of Frédéric Chopin changed the way the piano was played, not in the technical sense, as in the pieces of Liszt, but in the expressive quality required by the pianist. The shorter works allowed Chopin to experiment with and to expand his compositional abilities, creating a truly distinct musical style. Perhaps the most unusual and individual of the shorter piano pieces is the mazurka, which reflects the merging of Chopin's classical training in Paris and his patriotism for his native Poland. While retaining the flavor and rhythm of the traditional Polish dances, the mazurkas also reflect the sophisticated melodic nuances and the coloristic harmonies found in Chopin's other compositional genres. The brief, intimate postcards from his homeland are perhaps some of Chopin's greatest contributions to the piano repertoire.
The mazurka collection of Opus 68, published posthumously, evokes a very nationalistic flavor throughout. The first mazurka contrasts outbursts of bold, patriotic chordal passages with lyrical, winding, melodic passages. The rhythmic energy drives the piece ahead, and the contrasting middle section, waltz-like in character, demonstrates the expansion of range and melody of Chopin's later works. The second piece of the set, marked Lento, is warm and unhurried. Its introspective and reminiscent flavor is contrasted by a more homophonic, chordal section with a rhythmically stable pulse. The mazurka is highly ornamented and rhythmically interesting. The third piece in the collection evokes a nationalistic feel, with its chordal texture interrupted by a brief, winding, ascending melodic figure. The contrast between the two is that of a military fanfare and a rustic dance. The final mazurka is a lyrical and expressive reflection, harmonically rich and full of melancholy.