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  • Writer's pictureChurch Muse

"Take a Minute" - Chopin’s Minute Waltz, Op. 64, no. 1 and Mazurka in f minor, Op. 68. no. 4

A few nights ago, we found ourselves in our usual place in front of the tv, and decided to rent a movie instead of binge watch a show. Variety! We chose “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” the movie about Mister Rogers.

I knew I would like it, but I was surprised at how much I didn’t know about Fred Rogers. If you haven’t seen it, it’s not simply a biography, but a very well-done story of a small chunk of his life that kind of “says it all” as to who he was, true to his biography, and based on interaction with a writer on whom he had a profound impact.

There is one scene in which he and the writer are sharing a meal, and Fred asks to him to take a minute to just be quiet and “remember who has loved you into being.” A minute of silence may seem long, but it really isn’t. I challenge you to take just that one minute and remember those people. While you’re at it, remember those who are around you now and who continue to love you into being. Turn to them and thank them for their part in shaping who you are.

Chopin's familiar waltz was not named “Minute" by the composer, and the meaning is not what we think it is. I grew up being told that it was called that because it should be played in a minute. But it was his publisher, not Chopin, who gave it that name. Noting that it was much shorter than Chopin’s previous waltzes, he nicknamed it, “Minute,” but with the connotation of the word that is pronounced, “my-noot,” meaning small, or tiny. This was a huge revelation for me. I learned this piece as a kid, and there was NO way I was able to play it in a minute’s time. I never performed it, feeling inconsolably inadequate, not being able to play it fast enough to fulfill the composer’s directive. What a relief it wasn’t him! …uh… so 50 years later I learn this?

Probably because that particular waltz seemed out of reach for me, I turned to the Mazurkas. Both genre are in ¾ time, but on the whole, I find the Mazurkas more appealing because they employ elements of the Polish music of his youth. Though Chopin spent almost all of his adult life in Paris, he was born in Poland, and the Mazurkas are an homage to the dance of his homeland.

Of all the Chopin I’ve studied (which any pianist would say is A LOT) this mazurka is the absolute crystallization of his distinct signature chromaticism. He shifts from key to key with ease and elasticity, and still manages to return us to the home key of F minor.

Both of these works were written late in his short life. The mazurka was his last composition, and was published posthumously. Chopin had suffered from tuberculosis most of his life, and it was assumed to be the cause of his death. But upon examination of his heart in 2017, (yes, it had been preserved that long) pathologists believe it was pericarditis that took his life, a condition that was not yet known of by doctors in 1849. He was only 39 years old when he left the world.

The rendition of the waltz shared here is by my beloved favorite pianist as I was growing up, Artur Rubinstein.

I would like to thank my Cincinnati Conservatory teacher, Frank Weinstock, for lending me his 1965 edition of the mazurka that was reconstructed from Chopin's manuscript, and includes material that was not in my 2-page Schirmer edition.

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