Frédéric Chopin: Mazurkas, Op. 59

Written for the Tippet Rise Art CenterNot to be reprinted without permission.

On November 1, 1830, the 20-year-old Chopin left Warsaw for a concert tour to Vienna and was stranded abroad as Polish cadets launched an uprising against the Russian Empire. Months later, Chopin traveled to Stuttgart, where he was shocked to learn that the Polish rebellion had failed. He then made his way to Paris, joining thousands of Polish refugees, including many writers, artists, and musicians, fleeing war.

Chopin wrote his mature mazurkas in exile, reinterpreting a Polish folk dance for Parisian salons. The Op. 59 Mazurkas are relatively late works, written in 1845, a decade-and-a-half after he last stepped foot on Polish soil. No. 1, in A minor, begins with a melody alone, then a halting accompaniment gradually insinuates itself. No. 2, in A-flat major, begins with a firm pulse and a simple tune, but grows more fanciful as the music unfolds. Chopin gave the manuscript for this mazurka to Felix Mendelssohn, who gifted it to his wife, Cécile, who had declared her favorite composer to be Chopin. Finally, No. 3, in F-sharp minor, is an example of a fast mazurka, whirling in its outer sections, but slowing and hesitating in the middle.

Benjamin Pesetsky is a composer and writer. He serves on the staff of the San Francisco Symphony and also contributes program notes for the Philadelphia Orchestra and Melbourne Symphony.