Frédéric Chopin’s Mazurka in A minor, Op. 17, No. 4 inhabits the ephemeral world of dreams.
Emerging out of silence, the opening bars are hazy and harmonically ambiguous. They contain a rising three-note cell which searches for the “right” note and soon spins into a melody. It is music which seems to be composing itself in realtime. Traditionally, the mazurka is a lively Polish folk dance in triple meter, with strong accents placed randomly on the second or third beat of the measure. In contrast, Chopin’s A minor Mazurka resembles a nocturne. It is a waltz filled with the deepest pathos, loneliness, and melancholy. At moments, surges of passion bring florid embellishments. The middle section of the piece shifts into major and features a conversation between voices. It is a happy daydream which evaporates with a sudden dissonant intrusion. The quiet despair of the coda section is heightened by a sinking chromatic line. The piece ends as it began. It fades away, virtually unresolved, as a fleeting dream.
This is the fourth and final piece in the Op. 17 set. Chopin composed this music in Paris between 1832 and 1833. The twentieth century Polish composer, Henryk Gorecki, quoted the A minor Mazurka in the opening of the third movement of his Symphony No.3, Op.36 “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.” Additionally, it appears in John Williams score for the 1987 film, Empire Of The Sun.
This performance, featuring Evgeny Kissin, was recorded live at Carnegie Hall in 1994:
- Chopin: Mazurka in A minor, Op. 17, No. 4, Evgeny Kissin Amazon