Fryderyk Chopin’s Mazurka in F minor, Op. 68, No. 4 exhibits an astounding amount of chromaticism in such a short piece. Due to the sheer amount of chromaticism, a Roman numeral analysis is difficult to do. Therefore, one needs to pay attention to overall basic harmonic structure rather than literal every note harmonic analysis in order to comprehend where Chopin is harmonically taking the piece. Due to the latter characteristics of the piece, I feel that it may be easier for the listener to understand the piece if one would go through the piece in sections and observing each section in detail rather than just go through the measures labeling each Roman numeral. So, lets go through each section in basic harmonic and structural detail to get a better general understanding of the piece.
First phrase: m. 1-8, key of F minor, i
While there is a feeling of subphrases within these measures, divided in m. 1-2, m. 3-4, m. 5-6, and m. 7-8, the ideas flow seamlessly from one to another, due to the chromaticism and the descending stepwise motion of the harmonies and motives (such as the RH motif in m. 1-2 being used throughout these measures). A perfect authentic cadence in the key of i is perceivable in m. 8 with an F minor triad.
Second phrase: m. 9-14, elides to next phrase in m. 14, key of F minor, i
This second phrase is more or less a variation of the first phrase. A half cadence in the key of sharp III is present with an E7.
m.:1-14: parallel period
Third phrase: m. 15-19, elides to next phrase in m. 19, key of A major, sharp III
m. 14-15 and m. 16-17 repeat each other, creating an emphasis on the repeated right hand motif and the key of A major, a key that is distantly related from F minor. There is a perfect authentic cadence in the key of sharp III in m. 19.
Fourth phrase: m. 19-23, key of F minor, i
The right hand motives of this section (right hand of m. 19-20, for example) are the exact same right hand motives used in m. 15-19, only transposed to the key of i, F minor. The perfect authentic cadence in the key of i in m. 23 is the most conclusive cadence in the piece.
m. 15-23: parallel period
Fifth phrase: m. 24-27, key of A flat major, III
This phrase has a sudden change from the previous phrase’s F minor key to this one’s A flat major key. However, the key then travels to C minor, the v of F minor, due to the perfect authentic cadence in the key of v in m. 27.
Sixth phrase: m. 28-31, key of C minor, v
The material from this measure is similar to the previous phrase, but this phrase ends in a half cadence in the key of v with a G major triad.
m. 24-31: parallel period
m. 31-39: Retransition, elides to m. 40
m. 40: same material as m. 1
As one listens to the piece, there is a sense of continuous forward motion melodically and harmonically, constant and often unstable harmonic traveling for a number of reasons. Aspects of the piece that contribute to the continuous forward motion and harmonic instability include heavy use of chromaticism (m. 14-15 for melodic and m. 2-4 for harmonic, for example), the use of inverted chords rather than root chords (F6 in m. 1, for example), the use of very dissonant chords (such as E full diminished 65 in m. 7), elisions (first beat of m. 14 and 19), and quick shifts in key (from F minor to A major in m. 13-15, A flat major to C minor in m. 26-29).
Another major aspect of this piece which contributes to perpetual musical motion is sequencing, which is present in m. 1-5, for example. This excerpt travels harmonically in a descending stepwise motion every 1 measure, starting from F minor 6 to G7 to G flat 7 to F7 and ending at E minor 7. Also, the motive/melody transposes by descending whole steps every two measures from m. 1-6. A similar sequence can be found in m. 7-11.
The sequencing from m. 32-39 feels even more complex than the previously explained one due to more melodic chromaticism, thus making harmonies more difficult to determine. The melody of the right hand transposes in a descending stepwise motion from m. 32-36 every two measures. Likewise, the harmonies also descend in stepwise motion every two measures in m. 32-36. The sequencing intensifies in m. 37-39, this time descending by stepwise motion every 1 measure rather than two measures.
As Chopin marks sempre legatissimo (m. 11) and sempre legato (m. 32), it is possible that the composer wishes for the performer to practice these markings in order to give the listeners even more of a sense of continuity and seamless flowing from one idea to the next. In addition to always legato playing, one must also observe the sotto voce (m. 1), which literally means “under voice.” Perhaps Chopin wishes for a lyrical, soft but projected and singing like sound to carry the melodies of the piece, which can be accomplished through closer contact to the keys and depressing the keys with slow motion. Flattening the fingers some may help create a singing like melody, as doing so would enable one to play on the key with more surface area, which promotes a full, rich sound as opposed to the tip which promotes a bright, pointed sound.
Apart from the feeling of continuous motion, the mood of the piece is strange in a sense that there are sudden key changes from major to minor keys, somewhat giving me the sense of bipolarity, changing from a more somber, gloomy and tranquil mood suddenly to a happy and robust mood, which is something I may expect from the music of Robert Schumann rather than Chopin. m. 9-14, for example, is generally in a quiet, sotto voce mood. Then, in m. 14 a sudden shift to A major, a distant sharp III relation, along with a crescendo bring the spirit of the piece up for a moment, only to return to the gloomy and somber F minor (after a tonicization of iv in m. 19-20) in the phrase in m. 19-23. I believe exposing the bipolarity along with the continuous motion will musically bring the piece to life and make it shine. Therefore, the performer should make the most of thedynamic markings and sudden mood shifts within musical reason of course (not going from pianissimo to fortissimo in a matter of a few beats! Do not do this!)
The marking D. C. dal segno senza fine in m. 40 is interesting, as it is asking the performer to return to m. 2 and continue playing, but without end. There is no fine marked in the score, so Chopin has not specified where one should conclude the piece and stop playing. For Chopin to write senza fine further supports the idea of continuous nonstop motion and traveling. Since the piece is to sound senza fine, a performer might be inclined to repeat the piece more than once. Of course, the piece must end at some point in recital, so eventually concluding in m. 23 may be the best option, as the perfect authentic cadence here in the tonic key of F minor is the strongest and most conclusive sounding cadence in the piece.