Chopin kept writing Mazurkas almost incessantly all of his adult life from 1825 to 1849; and his deep fascination with folk music, singing and dancing is all expressed in that genre. The composer was always receptive and open to all aspects of native folklore, and he learnt it in its pure form, as if first hand. Due to numerous travels around the country, as well as summer vacations spent on country estates of his relatives and friends, Chopin visited villages in nearly every Polish region, and he knew well the music of the Mazovia, Kujawy and Dobrzyń regions. This knowledge was not passive; not only did Chopin listen to and note in his memory what he had heard, but also played and danced during harvest festivals and other folk feasts.
This experience resulted in an odd form: as far as native folklore is concerned, the composer limited himself to one genre only – mazurka. At a time of intensive virtuosity, the genre stood out in its intentional simplicity, crystal transparency of form, and, above all, sublime expression. At the same time, the folk origins left their impression on nearly every element of his work. Building the shape of his mazurka, Chopin thought in terms of dance. He wrote phrases, periods, and sentences based on the principles and means of expression of a folk musician. Among the numerous forms of the mazurka we may easily distinguish the real Polish folk dances: oberek, kujawiak, or Mazovian dance. In time, the outlines of folk dances became blurred. An intelligible source of inspiration gave way to a peculiar unique fusion of an indescribable conglomerate of folkloristic means of expression. Starting from the form of quasi-applied miniature, Chopin’s mazurka evolved into the artistic form of reflective lyrics. It assumed the form of an idealistic synthesis, a highly general formula concretized in various expressive variants. The formula consists of the following features: folk idiom grips (burdon, ostinato), performing manner (rubato), rhythmic motifs and melic idioms of individual dances, tonal structures (modal schemes and folk scales), folk formal patterns (e.g. cyclic form, where one and the same phrase opens and ends the period), and, first and foremost, a musical logic, peculiar to the folk poetics.
Folk music was extremely important for Chopin when he lived abroad. It became all the more authentic as it came to symbolize the fatherland and the essence of the national identity. In Chopin’s sensitive and nostalgic memory native folklore became sanctified. It was only possible to idealize it, synthesize and raise the folk to mankind. This ideal is embodied in mazurkas: miniature masterpieces of personal expression that is individual, and at the same time unmistakably defining the national identity of its author in the face of the whole world.
Translation: Joanna Janecka