\"\"
Piano Forum logo

Strange Chord Progression in Chopin's C minor Polonaise (Read 11061 times)

Offline nmitchell076

  • PS Silver Member
  • Jr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 47
Strange Chord Progression in Chopin's C minor Polonaise
« on: December 13, 2010, 06:01:49 PM »
Hello everyone, now that fall term is over at my University, I have been given new repertoire to learn.  One of the pieces I've received is Chopin's C minor Polonaise (Op. 40, No. 2).  For ease of reference, I'll link to IMSLP's file of it: http://imslp.org/wiki/Special:ImagefromIndex/80437

Now, when I get a new piece of music, I enjoy going through and doing a harmonic and structural analysis, that way, when I begin actually working out the piece at the piano, i will already have an idea of the general hierarchy of the piece and how it progresses.  But this Chopin is very strange to analyze harmonically, at least with my current background of musical theory, and I was wondering if some of you guys would be able to help me out on a couple of issues I'm having with it.

My biggest issue that I really just don't understand comes in the section in Ab major starting at m. 72 (top of page 28 if your looking at the score I linked).  It begins simply enough, first I, then V7, then either iii or I6, followed by bVI.  But for some reason that I don't understand, the next chord is a translation of bVI enharmonically that doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, especially since immediately afterward he returns to I.  Furthermore, he next immediately begins outlining #I, but two measures later translates that enharmonically into the Neopolitan chord, before finally moving to V6/5, then to I.

The reason for translating the bVI into God-knows-what and using #I instead of bII when he immediately moves to IIb just.... baffles me.  Can any one help me out with an explanation?





EDIT: also, a minor issue, in the previous section, mm. 39-40 (pg 27, last bar of line 1 and first bar of line 2), I'm also having trouble deciphering the chords here, particularly the second one.  Considering the L.H. alone would seem to be vii07/V with a pedal on V.  But adding the R.H. (which you can't simply discount as fluff since it contains the third of the dim. chord), throws in an E natural, as well as a D#.  If you leave out the E nat. (since you could say it's an upper neighbor tone to D#), then you would have #ii09.  Though I understand that were this the case, this would probably indicate that its tonicizing something, I'm having difficulty understanding what it is tonicizing, the next chord is very clearly vii07/V.

Also, the chord immediately previous to this guy (m. 39) appears to be vii07/ii, which would make the progression either:
V (from m. 38) - vii07/ii - #ii09/V - vii07/V - V (from m. 42)
or
V - vii07/ii - vii07/V - V (if you want to count measure 40 and 41 as a single chord)

Either progression just doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense to me, am I missing something?
Pieces:
Beethoven - Sonata No. 17 in D minor, Op. 31 No. 2
Chopin - Nocturne in Bb minor Op. 9 No. 1
Debussy - "La Danse De Puck"
Somers - Sonnet No. 3, "Primeval"
Gershwin - Concerto in F

Offline Bob

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 15955
Re: Strange Chord Progression in Chopin's C minor Polonaise
«Reply #1 on: December 14, 2010, 11:46:06 PM »
Maybe he preferred E instead of Fb?  Or to show that it's a bVI in the home key first, and then to right it more easily as E.  And it's just a V/N?

I didn't see the second block of text when I was thinking.... oops.
Favorite new teacher quote -- "You found the only possible wrong answer."

Offline ramseytheii

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2515
Re: Strange Chord Progression in Chopin's C minor Polonaise
«Reply #2 on: January 21, 2011, 03:50:35 AM »
Hello everyone, now that fall term is over at my University, I have been given new repertoire to learn.  One of the pieces I've received is Chopin's C minor Polonaise (Op. 40, No. 2).  For ease of reference, I'll link to IMSLP's file of it: http://imslp.org/wiki/Special:ImagefromIndex/80437

Now, when I get a new piece of music, I enjoy going through and doing a harmonic and structural analysis, that way, when I begin actually working out the piece at the piano, i will already have an idea of the general hierarchy of the piece and how it progresses.  But this Chopin is very strange to analyze harmonically, at least with my current background of musical theory, and I was wondering if some of you guys would be able to help me out on a couple of issues I'm having with it.

My biggest issue that I really just don't understand comes in the section in Ab major starting at m. 72 (top of page 28 if your looking at the score I linked).  It begins simply enough, first I, then V7, then either iii or I6, followed by bVI.  But for some reason that I don't understand, the next chord is a translation of bVI enharmonically that doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, especially since immediately afterward he returns to I.  Furthermore, he next immediately begins outlining #I, but two measures later translates that enharmonically into the Neopolitan chord, before finally moving to V6/5, then to I.

The reason for translating the bVI into God-knows-what and using #I instead of bII when he immediately moves to IIb just.... baffles me.  Can any one help me out with an explanation?


I normally like to answer questions like this but I don't really have an answer for your particular question, though I think one thing isn't quite right in your analysis.

The chord in the third beat of the second bar of your example (which by the way is page 29 not 28, and also in general you should be more specific because it was hard to even understand your question since you didn't place anything in a bar or beat or anywhere really) is a German augmented sixth, which was typically used to emphasize a I64 - V7 - I cadence.

Chopin uses a chromatic motion in the bass to instead go to the key of A major, which makes sense because the German sixth of A-flat corresponds to the dominant of A.  I really wouldn't call the A major Neapolitan, because Neapolitan refers to a specific harmonic function, not just a relative key.  For me this is really just a coloristic modulation, nothing functional about it, that is very clever in the way it subverts the typical usage of certain chords.

But your question was why he spelled it in so many ways (three ways: in the second bar of your example, third beat, the root being F-flat and the chord spelled in the typical German augmented sixth fashion; in the third bar of your example, first beat, enharmonically spelled with D and B naturals in place of the flats, probably just to show their direction; and in the third bar, third beat, spelled out as if in a new key signature).  I dunno!  Each spelling probably has to do with what precedes or succeeds it.

Walter Ramsey