Chopin composed his first polonaise at the age of seven, and he greatly developed the style over the course of his creative career. As in the case of the nocturnes, Chopin perfected an existing form, while he surpassed those who initiated it: Oginski, Kurpinski, and Meyseder.
The polonaise is a processional dance in triple time, the hallmark rhythm of which comprises an eighth note and two sixteenths, followed by four eighth notes. Liszt felt that “this dance is designed above all to draw attention to the men and to gain admiration for their beauty, their fine arts, their martial and courteous appearance.”
For Chopin, however, these compositions are the finest expression of his nostalgic grief with respect to the struggles of his homeland. Chopin composed nine polonaises before leaving Poland. It is only later, in France, that his genius matured. “His seven later examples are thrilling in their splendour, rancour, and pianistic invention.”
Polonaise in C-sharp Minor, Op. 26 No. 1
The polonaises of opus 26 were composed in 1834 and 1835 and were dedicated to his friend, J. Dessauer. Its opening is a tragic and grand proclamation, which quickly shifts as it reaches a more lyrical theme. A work of indecisive quality, it displays two main characters: an angry, frantic Allegro appassionato
, as well as a passionate Meno mosso
, which, according to Huneker, is “tender enough to woo a princess.” The left hand’s melody creates an eerie effect and can present a challenge to the amateur pianist.
Polonaise in E-flat Minor, Op. 26 No. 2
This work is a masterpiece of great colour and variety. The suspenseful Maestoso
beginning sets the mood for a most spectacular flash of vitality. The Meno mosso
is a beautiful chordal statement. This polonaise is sometimes referred to as The Siberian Revolt
. It is also said to be one of Chopin’s most realistic compositions.
Polonaise in A Major, Op. 40 No. 1 — “Military Polonaise”
The polonaises of opus 40 were composed in 1838 and were dedicated to his friend, Jules Fontana. This work is very popular. It is a majestic burst of chordal energy: Allegro con brio
creates a mood of vibrant glory.
Polonaise in C Minor, Op. 40 No. 2
Anton Rubinstein saw in this a gloomy picture of Poland’s downfall, while the polonaise in A major was a portrait of its former greatness. Acquiring proper tonal quality in the left hand’s octave melody can create challenges for the amateur pianist, and unfortunately this work is seldom played.
Polonaise in F-sharp Minor, Op. 44
This work was composed in 1840 and 1841 and dedicated to Madame la Princesse Charles de Beauvau née de Komar. According to Liszt this polonaise is the “lurid hour that precedes a hurricane,” while John Ogdon sees in it a “Goya-like intensity.”
Its melodies are very powerful and are presented in octaves, while the left hand jumps between registers rather frantically. The middle section is a mazurka and is quite chilling, as it is introduced in a most unique fashion. This piece bears few similarities to his elegant waltzes: its manner is further extemporaneous and is thus reminiscent of the scherzi.
Polonaise in A-flat Major, Op. 53 — “Heroic Polonaise”
This is one of Chopin’s most popular works, and it is well known around the world. He composed it in 1842 and dedicated it to Monsieur Auguste Leo.
Its majestic octave sequence in E major resounds with the hooves of a proud cavalry. After “this central episode,” wrote Ogdon, “Chopin’s return to the main section is a tour de force: few composers would have dared and achieved so apparently wayward and capricious a return in so grandiose a work.” Huneker cautions, “None but the heroes of the keyboard may grasp its dense chordal masses, its fiery projectiles of tone.”
Polonaise in A-flat Major, Op. 61 — “Polonaise-Fantaisie”
Chopin composed this work only four years before his death (1845/46) and dedicated it to Madame A. Veyret. It is a masterpiece of 18 pages and is among his most exalted creations. When properly executed, it is an impressive display of romantic melody, impressionistic harmony and virtuoso technique. Interpretation of this work is highly subjective and, thus, ranges considerably among modern pianists.
Sheet Music and Recordings
This page was last updated on 6 May 2013