Berkovich - Mazurka
The Mazurka is a dance in triple time originating in Poland in the 16th century. It has a characteristic accent on the second and/or third beat and was originally accompanied by a bagpipe drone – which can be faintly heard in the LH writing in this example.
There were several different types and a great variety of steps were possible, along with what Grove's Dictionary of Music describes as 'a certain pride of bearing and sometimes a wildness'. It became popular across Europe and crossed to America during the 19th century and became the inspiration for many piano compositions, including most famously those of Chopin.
A Mazurka danced salon style in 19th century costume can be seen here:
Pupil Match & Suitability
A student with some flair for the dramatic in performance, and a strong sense of pulse, will play this well. The mixture of articulations may defeat a less well-coordinated student. Dynamics need to be fully realised and accents marked. Neatness and accuracy will be important underpinnings to a successful performance, to enable the student to play with confidence.
Style & Tempo
There is an undoubted swagger to this music, which is easily captured through rhythmic playing. A tempo of crotchet =110 should be the minimum, and the more confident student could take the tempo up to 120 bpm for a livelier feel.
A lively Chopin mazurka gives a feel for the style:
Phrasing & Articulation
This Mazurka is organised into regular 4-bar phrases, each consisting of very similar 2-bar question-and-answer subdivisions. The ABA form lends itself to making a dynamic contrast in the B section (Bars 9-16),
Articulation is slurred legato in the LH with a great deal of staccato and slurring in the RH. This will require development of good coordination (see Technique).
Tone & Texture
The whole piece is in a very limited range of notes, remaining within two octaves starting at A below middle C and only dropping to the F below this right at the end. This gives it a rather naive sound. The student will need to explore ways to vary the tone within this limited range to avoid monotony.
The drone-like LH part supports a lively dancing RH melody. Cadences are emphatically marked off with accented minim chords.
The student will need to possess or develop the ability to play thirds cleanly and to jump neatly to a chord.
Arriving at the minim chord in bar 8 must be purposeful, taking aim and pre-position both hands in plenty of time, so that by the end of the quaver rest all the fingers are poised ready to play. (See also Practice Tips)
Bar 1 RH fingering will very much depend on the student's strength and dexterity. In order to keep the same 5-finger position for the first 6 bars, the double third would be fingered 2/4 and the semiquaver played with 5.
However, many students may find this awkward and weak-sounding, in which case they could just as well use 1/3 followed by 4, and in Bar 2 move to the 5-finger position by putting 3 on the B flat.
This choice of fingering does cause more moving around (Bar 4 will possibly be fingered differently from the same notes in Bar 5) but could make a worthwhile difference to confidence.
There is no need to pedal any of this music; it would generally risk blurring the articulation.
However, a dab of pedal to warm up the chords in Bar 8 and 24 could be tried out as an option for the student who is able to add this comfortably into their playing.
Rhythmic accuracy and vitality are important in this piece. The student should clap or tap the rhythm of the first bar taking care to avoid any sense of a triplet. Having established this very snappy rhythm, there is a danger of overdoing it and mistakenly playing a semiquaver instead of a quaver at the end of Bars 9, 13 and 14. Again, clapping will help with familiarisation.
As the Mazurka is such a well-characterised dance it could be used as a basis for composition or improvisation. The original use of a drone, and the typical rhythmic figures of dotted quavers and accented off-beats, provide starting points for a simple exercise in Mazurka-style inventing.
To make the double thirds in Bar 1 (and elsewhere) sound neat, practise slowly moving from the two fingers to the one and back again.
If there is a lot of difficulty playing both at the same time, take one note away and then the other, until the fingers are used to playing the notes at the right moment.
One of the main potential hazards of this piece will be dullness. Any evening-out of the perky RH rhythms or any barrel-organ monotony in the LH, will highlight how repetitive the material is. Encourage the student to keep plenty of energy in the staccatos and spaciousness in the rests.
An excellent performance will be full of poise and energy, evoking the rich history of the Mazurka despite the simplicity of this example. There will be no sense of technical difficulty in the mixture of articulations. Accented chords in Bars 8 and 24 will be pounced upon triumphantly, and the repeated F in Bar 16 with real wit, and the performance will even look stylish in the movement of the hands, which will dance unerringly about the keys. The listener will find it impossible not to smile by the end!
A good performance will be rhythmically sound and dynamically varied. The staccato articulations and accents will be clear, conveying an awareness of the Mazurka's characteristic style. Confidence and enjoyment will show through.
A sound performance will avoid repetitiveness by use of dynamics to shape the phrases. There may be some slight awkwardness over making crisp staccatos in the RH when the LH is legato. A generally accurate performance of the notes will nevertheless lack something in coming alive off the page.