The Mazurkas, op. 31 belong to the relatively small number of compositions for piano by Władysław Żeleński, comprising only a dozen or so items – from miniature pieces to sizeable instrumental works. Although the composer was himself an excellent pianist, he turned his attention to chamber music from the outset, and to art song in particular. Songs were for Żeleński what mazurkas were for Fryderyk Chopin – a sort of musical diary.
Władysław Żeleński performed works by the most famous Polish pianist many times; he was familiar with Chopin’s output and had a perfect understanding of his music. At the same time, he was a composer with his own powerful creative voice, resistant to the post-Chopin mania for mazurkas. His Mazurkas, op. 31 do not adhere to the fashion for salon virtuosity that was raging at the time, trivialising Chopin’s legacy. They represent a synthesis of mature and conscious reception of Chopin’s work and familiarity with authentic traditional music.
Both the mazurkas were written during the ‘Warsaw’ period in Władysław Żeleński’s life and professional career. They were dedicated to Sophie Menter, a well-known German pianist and pupil of Ferenc Liszt. The first of the mazurkas, in a minor key, opens with a mysterious, oneiric introduction, which is followed by a lyrical, melancholy kujawiak. The initially simple narrative – melody with accompaniment – develops into a multi-stranded structure, which enables the composer to forge a climax, albeit one that is sufficiently delicate as to not disturb the intimate mood. There is no salon virtuosity or overblown affectiveness in this mazurka. Even the middle episode, despite the major key and lively character, is cheerful and movingly sentimental. In the ending, the composer returns to the motifs from the introduction, which gradually fade into nothingness.
The second of these miniature pieces is of a completely different character. It opens with a joyful, jaunty mazur, the character of which is forged by doublings at a third and an octave, a quasi-polyphonic texture and irregular, perversely placed accents. A short bridge leads to a rhythmic section of a quasi-oberek character and a regular chordal accompaniment. Contrasting with this extremely energetic music is the middle section, dominated by simplicity, a miniature character and sparing musical means. Elements of kujawiak and oberek intertwine, and that ‘fusion’ can be heard not only in the characteristic rhythms, but also in the structure of both melody and accompaniment. An expressive narrative of a personal character comes to the fore, ‘embellished’ solely with subtly introduced secondary voices. After this moment of expressive meditation, Żeleński resumes the jaunty, effervescent mazur.
Contrary to the tendencies for virtuosic display that dominated the post-Chopin period, foremost in the compositions of Władysław Żeleński are those idioms which made Chopin’s miniatures so expressively fascinating and profound, that is, rubato, semplice and melancolico. With Żeleński – as with Chopin – mazurkas are a tool of personal expression, individualised utterance, subject to stylistic conventions. Thanks to the synthesis of traditional influences and Chopin’s models – such as nuanced tempi, motivic changeability, miniature form, the shifting of accents and the blending of major–minor tonality and modal scales – the op. 31 Mazurkas surprise us with their spontaneity, originality and profound expression.
- ISMN 979-0-2740-3506-8
- Language of edition: eng, pl
- Number of pages: 20
- Cover: softcover
- No. of edition: 1
- Published: 2021