Nocturne, polonaise, ballade, mazurka…..all forms employed by Chopin. But these words can leave the non-musical, English-speaker scratching his or her head as to their meaning and significance . A Chopin Glossary of terms widely associated with Chopin comes in handy:
Polonaise – a slow dance of Polish origin in ¾ time. Many composers have used the polonaise rhythm, but Chopin’s polonaises are the best known. Through this nationalistic dance form, the Poet of the Piano celebrates his homeland.
Mazurka - Chopin also expressed his national pride by composing mazurkas, especially after the 1830 Polish November Uprising against Russia. The mazurka is a lively traditional Polish folk dance that became popular in many 19th century European ballrooms. But Chopin was neither a traditional person nor composer, and his mazurkas are a genre all their own, not meant for dancing, but for performing and listening.
Nocturne – means music of the evening or night, and Irish composer John Field is credited with writing the first solo piano works using that title. Chopin expanded Field’s work in this particularly expressive genre with its melodic right hand, rhythmic left hand and sustained pedal. Chopin’s nocturnes are generally considered some of the finest short form works for solo piano ever written.
Ballade – Originally a term associated with French poetry, Chopin pioneered, some say invented, the ballade form. He wrote four of them – all large-scale masterpieces. Chopin’s ballades are passionate and emotional. They are extremely difficult to play and are among his most significant works.
Impromptu – means free form or improvised. It was popular in Chopin’s day to play extemporaneous variations on a theme. Chopin’s four impromptus are carefully and thoughtfully written out, but they have an improvisatory nature.
Etude – means study in French. In music, etudes were originally pieces used for teaching and refining a student’s technique, often without much musicality. But Chopin elevated the form to the level of art and revolutionized it. Not only do his etudes break new artistic ground, they present new technical challenges as well. In spite of their extreme difficulty they find themselves on concert programs time and time again.