The mazurka originated in the Polish province of Mazovia, near Warsaw. In the seventeenth century, the dance began to spread beyond the boundaries of Poland. Stylized mazurkas, such as Chopin's, combine aspects of this and several other dances, but some characteristics are consistently present: an accented third beat (occasionally the second) in a 3/4 measure; the use of both the natural and raised versions of some scale degrees, particularly the fourth; and a drone bass. During the 1830s and 1840s "art" music mazurkas were very popular in drawing rooms throughout Europe.
Some of the melodies of the mazurkas are unusual in comparison to the melodies of European "art" music. Many of these are related to folk mazurkas in their "modular" melodies consisting of tiny rhythmic and melodic units. Also, some use cross rhythms, chromatic scales, and modes typically not found in Western music. Often, we find remote keys used as colorful excursions from the tonic.
Most of Chopin's Mazurkas are in strict ternary form, some of them actually sporting a da capo to indicate the return to the first section. Chopin's later Mazurkas are more stylized than the earlier ones and are in many cases the testing ground for some of his most experimental ideas. Unlike other Romantic-era manifestations of "folk" music, Chopin's Mazurkas contain no actual folk tunes. He uses typical rhythms associated with Polish music, fragments of Polish melodies and Polish rhythmic and cadential formulas and combines them in an original way. Chopin's mazurkas are far more advanced than those by his contemporaries. Chopin borrowed sounds he found outside the European "art" music tradition and used them to create music within that tradition. Some consider Chopin's mazurkas to be the most original of his works.
Chopin composed the Five Mazurkas, Op. 7, in 1831; they were published in Leipzig the next year, not long after he had moved to Paris. The five pieces are in B flat major, A minor, F minor, A flat major and C major.
In the third of the Op. 7 set, in F minor, we find Chopin stretching the typical boundaries of the mazurka. Instead of jumping right into the main theme, the piece begins with an introductory idea in the lower register featuring a sinister open-fifth drone. The main theme is an arching line of mostly eighth notes over broken chords in the left hand that also contain an open fifth. As we would expect, this melody sounds twice. What we don't expect, however, is the lengthy, harmonically adventurous trio section, which is twice as long as the introduction and main theme combined. Each of its three, eight-measure melodies is played twice and each, with an aggressive, repeated-note pattern, provides a stark contrast to the main theme. Most striking is the quiet, highly dramatic transition back to the main theme, which includes a partial return of the introduction.
Uncharacteristically, Chopin alters the final return of the main theme to create a an actual close to the piece as opposed to the abrupt "stop" we hear at the end of most of his mazurkas.