A Performer’s Guide To Chopin’s Mazurkas

This lecture-recital is a comprehensive guide to teaching and performance of Chopin’s Mazurkas, highlighting unique features of this hybrid dance form to inform the authentic application of Chopin’s articulation, phrasing, rhythm, and tempo rubato.

The fifty-seven mazurkas of Frédéric Chopin show a fascinating evolution of the genre, from a charming dance to a sophisticated musical poem. This lecture-recital, illustrated by a dozen of examples at the piano, offers a comprehensive and practical guide to teaching and performance of these masterpieces.

Since the mazurka is a hybrid of three Polish dances, the presentation will address unique characteristics of (1) the mazur, (2) the kujawiak, and (3) the oberek, along with dance movements present in Chopin’s writing, such as the “hołubiec” (heel-clicking leaps on offbeat accents) of the mazur, the “wahadłowy” (pendulum motive) of the kujawiak, and the “młynek” (whirling) of the oberek. Playing excerpts of the original folk song recordings will reveal peculiar effects featured in Chopin’s instrumental transformation of the genre, such as the “przyśpiewka,” a short improvised vocal introduction, an upbeat used for instrumental tuning, and a glissando effect, as well as Chopin’s re-imagination of folk band instruments, shown in “basy i dudy” (bass drones) of the accompanimental ostinato and the tradition of Polish fiddling. Highlighting these elements will address essential performance considerations such as moveable accents of the mazur, agogic accents of the kujawiak, a rapid stepwise motion of the oberek, a distinction of accentuation between the mazurka and the waltz, and a careful application of tempo rubato.

Lastly, the presentation will offer ideas on how this practical knowledge informs the teaching and performance of the mazurkas written by the twentieth-century composers influenced by Chopin, including Alexander Scriabin, Manuel Ponce, and Karol Szymanowski.

Igor Lipinski, is an Assistant Professor of Piano at the University of Oklahoma, a frequent orchestra and recital soloist, and a graduate of Northwestern University and the Eastman School of Music.