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Mazurka rhythm.[1]

The mazurka (in Polish, mazurek) is a Polish folk dance in triple meter, usually at a lively tempo, and with accent on the second or third beat.


  • History 1
  • Outside Poland 2
    • France 2.1
    • Sweden 2.2
    • Cape Verde Islands 2.3
    • Portugal 2.4
    • Latin America 2.5
    • Philippines 2.6
    • Ireland 2.7
  • Media 3
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • Bibliography 6
  • External links 7


The folk origins of the mazurek are two other Polish musical forms—the slow kujawiak, and the fast oberek. The mazurek is always found to have either a triplet, trill, dotted eighth note (quaver) pair, or an ordinary eighth note pair before two quarter notes (crotchets). In the 19th century, the dance became popular in many ballrooms in different parts of Europe. The Polish national anthem has a mazurek rhythm but is too slow to be considered a mazurek.

In Polish, this musical form is called "mazurek"—a word derived from "mazur," which up to the nineteenth century denoted an inhabitant of Poland's Mazovia region, and which also became the root for "Masuria". In Polish, "mazurka" is actually the genitive and accusative cases of "mazurek."

Several classical composers have written mazurkas, with the best known being the 69 composed by Frédéric Chopin for solo piano. In 1825 Maria Szymanowska wrote the largest collection of piano mazurkas published before Chopin. Henryk Wieniawski also wrote two for violin with piano (the popular "Obertas", Op. 19), and in the 1920s, Karol Szymanowski wrote a set of twenty for piano and finished his composing career with a final pair in 1934.

Chopin first started composing mazurkas in 1825, but his composing did not become serious until 1830, the year of the November Uprising, a Polish rebellion against the Russian Tsar. Chopin continued composing them until 1849, the year of his death. The stylistic and musical characteristics of Chopin's mazurkas differ from the traditional variety because Chopin in effect created a completely separate and new genre of mazurka all his own. For example, he used classical techniques in his mazurkas, including counterpoint and fugue.[2] By including more chromaticism and harmony in the mazurkas, he made them more technically interesting than the traditional dances. Chopin also tried to compose his mazurkas in such a way that they could not be used for dancing, so as to distance them from the original form.

However, while Chopin changed some aspects of the original mazurka, he maintained others. His mazurkas, like the traditional dances, contain a great deal of repetition: repetition of certain measures or groups of measures; of entire sections; and of an initial theme.[3] The rhythm of his mazurkas also remains very similar to that of earlier mazurkas. However, Chopin also incorporated the rhythmic elements of the two other Polish forms mentioned above, the kujawiak and oberek; his mazurkas usually feature rhythms from more than one of these three forms (mazurek, kujawiak, and oberek). This use of rhythm suggests that Chopin tried to create a genre that had ties to the original form, but was still something new and different.

Outside Poland

In Russia, many composers wrote mazurkas for solo piano: Scriabin (25), Balakirev (7), Tchaikovsky (6). Borodin wrote two in his Petite Suite for piano; Mikhail Glinka also wrote two, although one is a simplified version of Chopin's Mazurka No. 13. Tchaikovsky also included mazurkas in his scores for Swan Lake, Eugene Onegin, and Sleeping Beauty.

The mazurka is an important dance in many Russian novels. In addition to its mention in Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina as well as in a protracted episode in War and Peace, the dance is prominently featured in Ivan Turgenev's novel Fathers and Sons. Arkady reserves the mazurka for Madame Odintsov with whom he is falling in love.

Czech composers Bedřich Smetana, Antonín Dvořák, and Bohuslav Martinů all wrote mazurkas to at least some extent. For Smetana and Martinů, these are single pieces (respectively, a Mazurka-Cappricio for piano and a Mazurka-Nocturne for a mixed string/wind quartet), whereas Dvořák composed a set of six mazurkas for piano, and a mazurka for violin and orchestra.


In France, Impressionistic composers Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel both wrote mazurkas; Debussy's is a stand-alone piece, and Ravel's is part of a suite of an early work, La Parade. Jacques Offenbach included a mazurka in his ballet Gaîté Parisienne; Léo Delibes composed one which appears several times in the first act of his ballet Coppélia. The mazurka appears frequently in French traditional folk music. In the French Antilles, the mazurka has become an important style of dance and music. A creolised version of the mazurka is mazouk, which was introduced to the French Caribbean during the 19th century. In popular folk dancing in France, in recent years (after roughly 2005), the mazurka has evolved into a dance at a more gentle pace (without the traditional 'hop' step on the 3rd beat), allowing for more intimate dancing and giving it the status of a seduction dance. This style of mazurka has also been imported into "balfolk" dancing in Belgium and the Netherlands, hence the name "Belgian Mazurka" or "Flemish Mazurka".


In Swedish folk music, the quaver or eight-note polska has a similar rhythm to the mazurka, and the two dances have a common origin. The dance was common as a popular dance in Europe and the United States in the mid- to late-nineteenth century. It survives in some old time fiddle tunes, and also in early Cajun music, though it has largely fallen out of Cajun music now. In the Southern United States it was sometimes known as a mazuka, while in Australia, Julian Cochran composed a collection of five mazurkas for solo piano and orchestra.

Cape Verde Islands

In Cape Verde the mazurka is also revered as an important cultural phenomenon played with acoustic bands led by a violinist and accompanied by guitarists. It also takes a variation of the mazurka dance form and is found mostly in the north of the archipelago, mainly in São Nicolau, Santo Antão. In the south it finds popularity in the island of Brava.


In Portugal the mazurka became one of the most popular traditional European dances through the first years of the annual Andanças, a traditional dances festival held nearby Castelo de Vide.

Latin America

In Brazil, the composer Ernesto Nazareth wrote an chopiniesque mazurka called "Mercedes" in 1917. Heitor Villa-Lobos wrote a mazurka for classical guitar in a similar musical style to Polish mazurkas. In Cuba, composer Ernesto Lecuona wrote a piece titled Mazurka en Glisado for the piano, one of various commissions throughout his life. In Nicaragua, Carlos Mejía Godoy y los de Palacaguina and Los Soñadores de Saraguasca made a compilation of mazurkas from popular folk music, which are performed with a violin de talalate, an indigenous instrument from Nicaragua. In Curaçao the mazurka was popular as dance music in the nineteenth century, as well as in the first half of the twentieth century. Several Curaçao-born composers such as Jan Gerard Palm, Joseph Sickman Corsen, Jacobo Palm, Rudolph Palm and Wim Statius Muller have written mazurkas. In Mexico, composers Ricardo Castro and Manuel M Ponce wrote mazurkas for the piano in a Chopin fashion, eventually mixing elements of Mexican folk dances.


In the Philippines, the mazurka is a popular form of traditional dance. The Mazurka Boholana is one well-known Filipino mazurka.


Mazurkas constitute a distinctive part of the traditional dance music of County Donegal, Ireland. As a couple's dance, it is no longer popular. The Polish dance entered the British Isles in the 1840s, but is not widely played outside of Donegal.[4] Unlike the Polish mazurek, which may have an accent on the second or third beat of a bar, the Irish mazurka (masúrca in the Irish language) is consistently accented on the second beat, giving it a unique feel.[5][6][7][8] Musician Caoimhín Mac Aoidh has written a book on the subject, From Mazovia to Meenbanad: The Donegal Mazurkas, in which the history of the musical and dance form is related.[9][10][11] Mac Aoidh tracked down 32 different mazurkas as played in Ireland.[12]


See also


  1. ^ Blatter, Alfred (2007). Revisiting music theory: a guide to the practice, p.28. ISBN 0-415-97440-2.
  2. ^ Charles Rosen, The Romantic Generation (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995)
  3. ^ Jeffrey Kallberg, The problem of repetition and return in Chopin's mazurkas, Cambridge, England, Cambridge University Press, 1988.
  4. ^ Cooper, P. (1995). Mel Bay's Complete Irish Fiddle Player. Mel Bay Publications, Inc.: Pacific, p. 76-80
  5. ^ Vallely, F. (1999). The Companion to Traditional Irish Music. New York University Press: New York, p. 231
  6. ^ "Rhythm Definitions – Irish Traditional Music Tune Index". 5 December 2012. Retrieved 26 June 2013. 
  7. ^ "Irish Flute Tunes » Blog Archive » Masúrca Gan Ainm". 5 May 2007. Retrieved 26 June 2013. 
  8. ^ "Mazurka" (PDF) (Press release). Retrieved 26 June 2013. 
  9. ^ "Late session". Retrieved 26 June 2013. 
  10. ^ [3] Archived 27 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ "9780955903106: From Mazovia to Meenbanad : The Donegal Mazurkas – AbeBooks – Mac Aoidh, Caoimhin: 0955903106". AbeBooks. Retrieved 26 June 2013. 
  12. ^ "Séamus Gibson Caoimhin mac Aoidh Niall Mac Aoidh Martin McGinley... • From Mazovia to Mennbanad • cdtrrracks". Retrieved 26 June 2013. 


  • Kornel Michałowski and Jim Samson. "Chopin, Fryderyk Franciszek" Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. 17 Nov 2009. (esp. section 6, "Formative Influences")
  • Stephen Downes. "Mazurka" Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. 17 Nov 2009.
  • Milewski, Barbara. "Chopin's Mazurkas and the Myth of the Folk." 19th-Century Music 23.2 (1999): 113–35.
  • Rosen, Charles. The Romantic Generation. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995.
  • Kallberg, Jeffrey. "The problem of repetition and return in Chopin's mazurkas." Chopin Styles, ed. Jim Samson. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
  • Kallberg, Jeffrey. "Chopin's Last Style." Journal of the American Musicological Society 38.2 (1985): 264–315.
  • Winokur, Roselyn M. “Chopin and the Mazurka.” Diss. Sarah Lawrence College, 1974.

External links

  • history, description, costumes, music, sources
  • Mazurka within traditional dances of the County of Nice (France)
  • The Russian Mazurka
  • The Mazurka Project
  • Halman, Johannes and Robert Rojer (2008). Jan Gerard Palm Music Scores: Waltzes, Mazurkas, Danzas, Tumbas, Polkas, Marches, Fantasies, Serenades, a Galop and Music Composed for Services in the Synagogue and the Lodge. Amsterdam: Broekmans and Van Poppel. *[4]
  • 'Vincent Campbell's Mazurka' as played by Vincent Campbell in Co. Donegal
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