Mazurka Op.7, No.5 in Bb Major (Chopin)

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An analysis by Kevin Vanderburg.

Chopin’s Mazurka No. 5 in Bb Major, Op. 7 No. 51, is a seemingly simple piece of music, but lends itself to several different interpretations of formal analysis. Depending upon if marked repeats are taken, the form can be quite long with many small parts contributing to a compound form consisting of 2 repeated binaries with introduction and coda. If repeats are not taken, a similar form can be derived which also is a compound form comprised of 2 binaries with an introduction. In both cases, a rondo variant form is also able to be derived.

The brunt of this analysis basically looks at the anomalous nature of the ‘C’ section and its instabilities. All formal analysis revolves around how we classify this extremely unstable passage.

A free score of the piece under analysis


Cadences occur in measures 24,32,44,52, and 65. All of these cadences are perfect authentic cadences in either Bb or F except for the one in measure 52. The cadence in measure 52 lends itself to interpretation, but due to the fact that Chopin is using dominant/sub-dominant relationships until this point, this cadence could be classified as a half cadence in the key of Gb. Of course, there are also other possibilities for this measure since the tones F A C Eb and G are available in the measure, we could call this V9/V in the key of Bb major or minor. So in essence, this measure is an elision providing continuity back into the original A material which begins with a V in Bb major. This does actually seem to be an anomalious statement. Going from Bb minor to Bb major is untraditional, so the next best argument is to consider the fact that the F mode of the Bb minor scale is used.

The section of the music where the music is the most unstable (‘C’ Section) occurs between 45-52. The Bb anacrusis leads us to believe this is a common tone modulation to the related key of Gb or Bb minor. Due to the fact that the melodic line is in the key of Bb minor at the fifth, this tends to support the idea that we are actually in the key of Bb minor and we are pedaling on a VI chord. This can also be viewed as a neopolitan relationship in the key of F. F is a pitch center that is heavily emphasized in the melodic line, so it is not unreasonable to think of this section in the terms which relate it to an F center.

The section is intended to be dissonant and somewhat tonally ambiguous. Evidence of this can be seen in the damper pedal marking, which lasts for the entire section until the cadence. The fact that the pedal does not continue into the cadence is also an argument for this cadence being more of a contiguous cadence, rather than one that provides a high degree of closure. The Gb pedal chord juxtaposed under a Bb minor line which emphasizes F as its center, illustrates a duality which allows us to justify the section in several different ways. The Gb pedal chord emphasizes a neopolitan relationship to F, the pitch center in which the melodic line emphasizes.

If all repeats are taken, we can look at this piece as either a binary with introduction and coda, or as a rondo. There are 10 sections: AABABACACA. Seemingly, this would reflect the structure of a rondo since the A theme returns so many times with literal repetition, and also frames the work. However, this structure can also be expressed as a|:ab:|:ac:|a. This illustrates the 2 binaries with an introduction and coda. This can be further simplified into 1 large binary form with introduction and coda. This large binary consists of 2 smaller binaries: |ab|ac|. This form can be expressed as a|:A:|:B:|a.

In either binary case, the form lays out to be structurally palendromic. The formal structure consists of 12 bars in the introduction, a 38 bar binary, then another 38 bar binary, and a 12 bar coda: (12a+38A | 38B+12a). This provides a symmetry for the piece which provides perfect balance to the form. I believe Chopin intended the repeats to be taken for a number of reasons. The most justifiable of which is the symmetry given to the piece with repeats, vs. the amount of symmetry with repeats neglected.

Let’s take a look at what happens if we ignore the repeat marks, and derive a form based on the written structure of the piece. AA|:BA:|:CA:|. This is, again 2 binaries, with an introduction. Or, if you are willing to accept a repeated period as a section, although not a binary section, it would look like this: ABC, which reveals a ternary. I do not approve of this piece as a ternary, but it is an option if loose standards are considered.

If we again look at the AA|:BA:|:CA:| structure, I would argue that it looks more like this: AA|:BA:|:CA:|. Since the A section is so small, and the listener only has a short amount of time in order to process it, the written out repeat has no function or justification for being included in the analyisis. Repeats ignored, we have a Rondo. In the end, the form of this piece is completely and absolutely irrelevant. In Polish culture at the time, Chopin was doing exactly what Schubert was doing in German culture: Entertaining. This piece would probably have been played with wild disregard to repeat marks and structure considering that it is a dance piece, and with written repeats, is only 2 minutes at the specified tempo marking. Chopin (as the performer inviting friends over to get drunk have fun dancing and such) would have been obligated to go on as long as his guests wanted to dance to the piece before going on to his next piece.

Historically, I think Chopin was probably a pretty unwealthy man, but was used by the rich, and probably fairly well supported in the venture due to his talents. There are many texts that tell us that Chopin was found passed out at his piano, drunk. I question whether it was a matter of him needing the liquor to compose, or to maintain his role as an entertainer. As a composer, I favor the latter… Chopin’s life was a complex and brilliant one. He wrote these types of pieces in order to entertain, but in the end, became an alcoholic. And the later works, and the posthumously published ones, reveal this complex relationship to the world in which he lived. Though Chopin was true to his art, we cover up the problem that so tormented him. I, for one, do not like analyzing the Mazurkas. I think a better revelation of Chopin’s life is in the Preludes and the Nocturnes. The pain and passion of the C minor prelude is astounding, and the F minor Nocturne is a passionate standard of human feeling. I understand Chopin.


I took a quick look at the other Mazurkas in the Burkhart in order to gain some insight to the one I chose, and the last one caught my eye because it had the end designation as “Del Segno Senza Fine.” If this is art music, we must consider it a joke. If it was functional music that was intended for people to dance to, we now have justification for a set of ‘loop forms’ or the birth of repetitive forms which Satie actually got, and ran with.


See Kevin Vanderburg's article on the origins of minimalism