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Mazurka rhythm. Mazurka dance pattern.png
Mazurka rhythm.

The Mazurka (Polish: mazurek or mazur) is a Polish folk dance in triple meter, usually at a lively tempo, and with "strong accents unsystematically placed on the second or third beat". [2] Originally from the cultural region of Mazovia, it is one of Poland's national dances. The Mazurka, alongside the polka dance, became popular at the ballrooms of Europe in the 19th century, particularly through the notable works by Frédéric Chopin.



The folk origins of the mazurek are two other Polish musical forms which are 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—until 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 59 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), Julian Cochran composed a collection of five mazurkas for solo piano and orchestra, and in the 1920s, Karol Szymanowski wrote a set of twenty for piano and finished his composing career with a final pair in 1934. Alexander Scriabin, who was at first conscious of being Chopin's follower, wrote 24 mazurkas.

Chopin first started composing mazurkas in 1824, 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. [3] 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. [4] 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.

The mazurka began as a dance for either four or eight couples. Eventually, Fokine created a female solo mazurka dance dominated by flying grandes jetés , alternating second and third arabesque positions, and split-leg climactic postures. [5]

Outside Poland

The dance was common as a popular dance in Europe and the United States in the mid to late nineteenth century.

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.

Czech Republic and its forerunners

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—beginning around 1979 in Paris—morphed into the globally popular dance style “zouk” developed in France and popularised by Paris's Island-creole supergroup Kassav'; mazouk had been introduced to the French Caribbean in the late 1800s. In the 21st century in Brazil and the Afro-Caribbean diaspora, zouk (and its progenitor band Kassav') remains very popular. In popular 20th century folk dancing in France, the Polish/classical-piano (see Chopin) mazurka evolved into mazouk, a dance at a more gentle pace (without the traditional 'hop' step on the 3rd beat), fostering more-intimate dancing and associating mazouk with a "seduction" dance (see also tango from Argentina). This "sexy" style of mazurka has also been imported to “balfolk" dancing in Belgium and the Netherlands, hence the name "Belgian Mazurka" or "Flemish Mazurka". Perhaps the most enduring style of intimate dancing music of this origin moved zouk from the 1980s–2000s into its wildly popular (especially in Brazil and Africa) slow-dancing variant called zouk love, which remains a staple of French-Caribbean dance venues in Paris and elsewhere.


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 UK in the 1840s, but is not widely played outside of Donegal. [6] 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. [7] [8] [9] [10] 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. [11] [12] [13] Mac Aoidh tracked down 32 different mazurkas as played in Ireland. [14]


Mazurkas are part of Italian popular music including the Ball Liscio style. Typical of Italian mazurkas are groups of triplets, strong dotted rhythms, and phrase endings of two accented quarter notes and a rest, unlike a waltz.

Latin America


In Brazil, the composer Ernesto Nazareth wrote a Chopinesque 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.


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.


In Russia, many composers wrote mazurkas for solo piano: Scriabin (26), 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 was a common dance at the balls of the Russian Empire and it is depicted in many Russian novels and films. 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. During Russian balls, it was danced elegantly and famously by the Tsarina Maria Feodorovna, the second-to-last tsarina of the Russian empire before its collapse in 1918. [15]


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 international version of the mazurka was also introduced under that name during the nineteenth century.


The mazurka 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".


In addition to being part of the repertoire of Irish traditional music sessions, the mazurka has been played by a wide variety of cultural groups in California. The mazurka first came to Alta California during the Spanish period and danced among Californios. [16] Later, the renowned guitarist Manuel Y. Ferrer, who was born in Baja California to Spanish parents and learned guitar from a Franciscan friar in Santa Barbara but made his career in the San Francisco Bay Area, arranged mazurkas for the guitar. [17] During the early 20th century, the mazurka became part of the repertoire of Italian American musicians in San Francisco playing in the ballo liscio style. [18] Pianist Sid LeProtti, an important Oakland-born early jazz musician on the west coast, stated that before jazz took off, he and other musicians in Barbary Coast clubs played mazurkas in addition to waltzes, two-steps, marches, polkas, and schottisches. [19] One mazurka, played on harmonica, was collected by Sidney Robertson Cowell for the WPA California Folk Music Project in 1939 in Tuolumne County. [20]

See also


  1. Blatter, Alfred (2007). Revisiting music theory: a guide to the practice, p.28. ISBN   0-415-97440-2.
  2. Randel, D. M., Ed., The New Harvard Dictionary of Music, Harvard University Press, 1986
  3. Charles Rosen, The Romantic Generation (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1995)
  4. Jeffrey Kallberg, The problem of repetition and return in Chopin's mazurkas, Cambridge, England, Cambridge University Press, 1988.
  5. Robert Greskovic (1998). Ballet 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving the Ballet. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 354. ISBN   978-0-87910-325-5.
  6. Cooper, P. (1995). Mel Bay's Complete Irish Fiddle Player. Mel Bay Publications, Inc.: Pacific, p. 76-80
  7. Vallely, F. (1999). The Companion to Traditional Irish Music. New York University Press: New York, p. 231
  8. "Rhythm Definitions – Irish Traditional Music Tune Index". 5 December 2012. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  9. "Irish Flute Tunes » Blog Archive » Masúrca Gan Ainm". 5 May 2007. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  10. "Mazurka" (PDF) (Press release). Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  11. "Late session". Archived from the original on 18 September 2012. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  12. Archived 27 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  13. "9780955903106: From Mazovia to Meenbanad : The Donegal Mazurkas – AbeBooks – Mac Aoidh, Caoimhin: 0955903106". AbeBooks. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  14. "Séamus Gibson Caoimhin mac Aoidh Niall Mac Aoidh Martin McGinley... • From Mazovia to Mennbanad • cdtrrracks". Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  15. Tony Faber (2008). Fabergé's Eggs . Random House. ISBN   9781400065509.
  16. Mende Grey, Vykki (2016). Dance Tunes from Mexican and Spanish California. San Diego, CA: Los Californios.
  17. Back, Douglas (2003). Hispanic-American Guitar. Mel-Bay. p. 9. ISBN   9781610656139.
  18. Mignano Crawford, Sheri (2008). Mandolin Melodies (3rd ed.). Petaluma, CA: Zighi Baci. pp. 11–13. ISBN   978-0976372233.
  19. Stoddard, Tom (1998). Jazz on the Barbary Coast . Berkeley, CA: Heyday Books. p.  12. ISBN   1-890771-04-X.
  20. Morgan, Aaron. Cowell, Sidney Robertson (ed.). Mazurka. California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties Collected by Sidney Robertson Cowell. Library of Congress . Retrieved 11 August 2018.


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