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Chopins Polonaise: Classic and National Influences

Lioara Popa


The substantial contribution that Chopin brings to the genre of the polonaise is the transformation of a gallant dance, with conventional harmony, into a veritable heroic song with innovative harmonies. Thanks to a scholarly transformation of a folk motif, Chopin manages to introduce the folklore in his important works, as the national conscience asked artists to return to the popular sources of inspiration to express the desire for freedom of a people.

Chopin is not himself an inventor in the melody, but he knew like no other to chisel away melodico-harmonic structures and to merge the means of expression so masterfully that his music, often laconic, exudes a breath taking as expressiveness. Chopinian rhythmic is the result of the fusion between the traditional rhythmic patterns of dance genres and the romantic conception of an asymmetrical, fluid rhythm.

He, very rarely appeals to polyphony, melodic overlapping, meant to illustrate the emotional development across multiple plans. Instead, the harmony, often chromatic, has an especially important role in setting up the images, in painting the intern tumult and in evoking the tragic feelings.

Chopin, as Liszt, combined the national material with the most advanced techniques of contemporary European music, merging modernism with nationalism. For many Polish of the nineteenth century who listened to Chopin’s music, this represented the national struggle, helping to cement the Polish spirit in a time when the country had no political status. Like many other romantic categories, nationalism can be applied to Chopin's life and work. His music had and still has nationalism association for some listeners. However, should be considered the artist's intentions, words and actions to reveal a more complete picture of his life and his place in the historical context.

Chopin composed his first Polonaise at the age of seven years, and enhanced very much his style during his creative career. As in “Nocturne”, Chopin perfected the existing form, also surpassing those who had initiated it: Oginski and Kurpinski. The nationalist character reveals in all genres that Chopin composed; it is only natural that this particular character appears more evident in those genres that arose from national dances – Polonaise and Mazurkas. It is often said that Chopin’s creation starts with the Polonaises and ends with Mazurkas, which is just outlining the nationalist aspect of his work.

Chopin’s Polonaises created at maturity have a new form, becoming true epic poems that revive images of the brilliant past of Poland; the facts are visions full of lyrical pathos from which results the sufferance for the country's tumultuous history. Although they have in common the great and narrative tone, Chopin Polonaises are extremely varied and full of plasticity, characterized by greatness and dramatism.

The Chopin’s maturity process as a composer, from youthful lyricism of his music to virtuosity and salon elegance, to humour and folk orientation, and finally, to the drama and pathos of being a national composer with prophetic vision leads him to the transcendence (Polonaise - Fantasie, Barcarolle, and final Mazurka). Those who have studied the evolution of Chopin’s style surprisingly find that this occurs regardless of the form of his musical compositions. Its evolution can be seen in the Sonatas, Polonaises and Mazurkas from the same period.

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