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So the thought has came to me several times to write a polonaise. I'm not Polish so I barely know anything about that side of the polonaise. But so far I have come across these commonalities across all polonaises(except maybe some of Bach's polonaises and some other early polonaises):

  • Triple meter(typically 3/4 time, though some are written with a 6/8 feel in mind)

  • Moderate to fast tempo(it gets especially fast if you look only at Chopin's polonaises)

  • Common melodic rhythm
  • Relatively simple bass line compared to the complex melody
  • Ternary form(often complex ternary form which is like ternary form sections inside a ternary form piece)

But then there are those things that differ. I will be using Chopin as an example since his polonaises are extremely well known, but don't feel as though I'm being too Chopin-centric.

Heroic Polonaise:

This polonaise has more of a 6/8 feel to it. And not just because of the eighth note bass line but also because of beams of eighths going across the bar. Also, I think there are some bars where the eighths are grouped in 3's, implying 6/8, even though it is written in 3/4 time. Also, in the B section, it feels more like a mazurka in terms of the rhythm. This is one of those cases where I would argue that 6/8 is the true time signature and that 6/8 is used as a triple meter(after all if 6 can be divided by both 2 and 3, no reason that 6/8 can't be triple meter just because it is most often duple meter)

Here is a typical polonaise rhythm: enter image description here

And here is the rhythm I feel and see in the B section of Chopin's Heroic Polonaise(and I mean the large scale B section, not the small scale B section within the large scale A section): enter image description here

That is a typical mazurka rhythm. No idea why Chopin would write the B section of a polonaise like a mazurka in terms of the rhythm.

Military Polonaise:

This one has clearer 3/4 feel to it. Also it sticks to the typical polonaise rhythm almost to the dot throughout, no section of it feels like a mazurka.

Polonaise in C minor:

This one is even more rhythmically confusing. Sometimes it sounds like a mazurka rhythm, sometimes it sticks to a typical polonaise rhythm, and other times it just sounds like a waltz rhythm. I guess the rhythmic confusion fits the mood of the polonaise though as does the tempo being on the slow side of Allegro.

So is there anything else I have to consider besides the rhythm, form, complexity of melody vs bass, tempo being moderate to fast, and most importantly triple meter when writing a polonaise?

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    Treat neither Chopin's Heroic Polonaise (in A flat major) nor his Tragic Polonaise (in F sharp minor) as perfect examples of polonaises. I've read (and agree) that the central E major section (what I assume is what you call the B section) of the Heroic Polonaise is a krakowiak and one of the central A major sections of the Tragic Polonaise is a mazurka. With that being said, I don't get where in that B section has a 6/8 feel or even the rhythm you describe--my experience with that section is that it does indeed adhere rhythmically to its 3/4 borders and does not use hemiolas. – Dekkadeci Aug 16 at 0:02
  • The 6/8 feel that I get isn't specific to the B section of the Heroic Polonaise. It actually starts pretty early on in the polonaise, at 0:27 in the video of the Heroic Polonaise. You can see eighths grouped in 3's and beams going across the bar, both implying 6/8, despite being written in 3/4. The mazurka rhythm is what I feel specifically in the B section of the Heroic Polonaise. It starts at 3:00 in the video, where you can clearly see the mazurka rhythm in the melody over sixteenths in the bass. 4:00 is where it starts getting the polonaise rhythm once again before the A section repeat. – Caters Aug 16 at 19:46
  • I listened to the Heroic Polonaise at 0:27, and I got the impression that, despite what the note beaming says, that section uses a hemiola (i.e. 2-2-2 groupings across 2 measures) and does not split any one measure rhythmically into 3 eighth notes + 3 eighth notes. – Dekkadeci Aug 17 at 0:03
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If you want to understand what a Polonaise is, Chopin is not a good place to start from. He was writing "Polish Nationalism for ex-pats in Paris", not "dance music."

The Polonaise is a very simple dance. It is just a walk, with the third beat of every the bar a bit longer than the first two to make time for a slightly longer step.

If you want to understand any dance form, the best place to start is by actually dancing it, but the next best is watching other people:

Bach's Polonaises capture the essential features of the dance rhythm, and would be easy to actually dance to - unlike any of Chopin's Polonaises.

  • Some wag once wrote that if Chopin's waltzes were ever performed at a ball, all the ladies would have to be at least countesses. – Camille Goudeseune Aug 18 at 19:58
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One characteristic of a polonaise is the use of "feminine" endings in phrases; the tonic (or cadence-ending chord) often occurs on the second beat of a measure. (I don't know the provenance of the terms masculine and feminine endings. Masculine and feminine for phrase beginnings are funny in the masculine and feminine are often used reversed; sometimes one masculine means a pickup note and other places feminine has that meaning. It's not like with electrical receptacle where the meaning is obvious.)

The last measure may have a V7 or V (or the like) on beat 1 of the last (non-extension) measure and the I or i (or vi) on the 2 beat, usually tied to the 3 beat.)

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    I believe the idea of masculine/feminine endings is based on traditional/stereotypical masculine and feminine personality traits. The masculine ending is stronger/more direct as it arrives on the downbeat. The feminine ending is weaker/indirect as it arrives on a weak beat. – Heather S. Aug 16 at 13:04
  • Perhaps about the endings; though one might argue that the dominant on the 1 beat is fairly strong sounding. Strangely, I have seen both having or not having pickup measures described as masculine or feminine. Maybe it's like "natural" and "reverse" turns in dancing; "They had to call it something." – ttw Aug 16 at 19:28

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