So, I know enough about most common Romantic Era dances to feel comfortable composing them, even the Polka that I’ve never tried to compose and the Polonaise that I only ever composed once, but the Mazurka, it’s one that I have wanted to compose and it’s one of which I find almost nothing about besides the accent pattern being

1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3

instead of being

1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3

like most other dances in 3/4 time. Is there anything else I need to know is typical for a Mazurka before I compose one? Like, is there a typical rhythm or other characteristics? I think my unfamiliarity with the Mazurka not only has to do with the lack of information, but also with the fact that I have only really ever heard and played 1 Mazurka, this one:

As for why I am asking this question, well, on the one hand, there’s the curiosity that I have had about the Mazurka. And on the other hand, I have thought of taking the Baroque Dance Suite structure of different dances with different characteristics and a single key tying them together and applying them to the dances of the Romantic era, giving me something like this:

enter image description here

As you can see, there are some connections between my Romantic Dance Suite structure and that of the Baroque Dance Suite. The Polonaise and Allemande, Mazurka and Courante, Waltz and Sarabande, Scherzo and Minuet/Gavotte, and Polka and Gigue all have at least one similarity, those being:

Polonaise and Allemande: Rhythmic complexity, Polonaise might start with an upbeat, a lot of sixteenth notes

Mazurka and Courante: Fast, triple meter

Waltz and Sarabande: Triple meter, Waltz is the slowest of the Romantic era dances in my suite structure like the Sarabande is for the Baroque Dance Suite, although unlike the Baroque Sarabande, the Waltz isn’t always slow and is sometimes quite fast

Scherzo and Minuet/Gavotte: The Scherzo basically evolved from the Minuet, which shares a lot of similarities with the Gavotte(so much so, that I often think of the Gavotte as a "Minuet in 4") so, this is the closest tie that there is between the Romantic and Baroque

Polka and Gigue: Duple meter, often 2/4 time for the Polka and 6/8 time for the Gigue, Fast, lots of dotted rhythms

So, besides the accented beat being beat 2 of the 3/4 bar instead of beat 1, is there anything else characteristic of a Mazurka that I should know about if I want to compose one?

  • I was going to say the fairly obvious but highly relevant "the mazurka is in 3/4 time and is often at an Allegro Moderato- or Allegro non troppo-like tempo", but it looks like your question already covers that.
    – Dekkadeci
    Jun 20, 2021 at 14:27
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    Your idea of the "alternate dance suite" is intriguing. It would be interesting to try it with dances that maybe weren't commonly used in Romantic Era art music, but that were being danced at the time... uh, the quadrille? Scottische? I don't know enough history of dance to know. Or a jazz-age version, with foxtrot, Charleston, etc. Jun 21, 2021 at 15:51

1 Answer 1


It's always tempting to compare the Mazurka to the waltz, and one thing that both have in common is that their "accent" on a particular beat is not just a matter of making that beat "louder" than others, but a convention of rubato that stretches time slightly on that note—think of that time warp between the 1st and 2nd beats of a Strauss waltz. The Rubinstein recording you linked shows this stretching of the 2nd beat quite clearly in the left hand.

That said, there's almost certainly more to the mazurka than I know. Like the waltz, the Polonaise, the Allemande: All these are mutant creatures that evolved from living music cultures and were then extracted from their contexts and generalized by other cultures. I have a feeling, to really understand the Mazurka requires a deep dive into its Polish origins, just as some might argue that it's impossible to "understand" the tango without a lifetime in Buenos Aires. Of course Chopin has a right to the Mazurka, coming straight outta Warsaw, but for me (or, I assume, you?) to tackle it should require some homework that goes beyond metric emphasis to cultural connotations and conventions.

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    I think of the accent bouncing around playfully between 2 and 3 (and sometimes even 1), and the frequent use of that kind of lilting dotted figure on 1 - which lends itself to the rubato you describe - as characteristic.
    – BadZen
    Jun 22, 2021 at 6:19
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    @BadZen I have so far seen a lot of that dotted rhythm, and also a lot of triplets on beat 1, I decided to analyze Chopin's Mazurkas for traits like rhythm, melodic character(hopping or flowing), tempo, to try to get at what the similarities are in his Mazurkas. Maybe this will help when I write my own Mazurka.
    – Caters
    Jun 22, 2021 at 18:55
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    For what it's worth, Wikipedia says "The mazur" (one of the dances the mazurka derived from) "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)." Also note "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," an art music perhaps comparable to what Percy Grainger did to morris dances and Irish jigs. (Or perhaps that's unfair.) Jun 22, 2021 at 19:37

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