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Program Notes

Each week, thousands of San Francisco Symphony concert-goers open their programs to read about the drama, the passion, and the inspiration behind the music they’re hearing. You can read our critically acclaimed program notes online one week prior to select concerts.

“Hats off, gentlemen—a genius!” These words, perhaps the most famous in the history of music criticism, were published in 1831 by Robert Schumann in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung. The subject was Frédéric François Chopin (1810–49), and specifically Chopin’s Opus 2, the Variations for Piano and Orchestra on Mozart’s “Là ci darem la mano.” Chopin stood just then on the verge of fame. Born about thirty miles west of Warsaw to a French father and a Polish mother, Chopin was only fifteen when he saw a piece of his appear in print as his Opus 1. In 1829 he triumphed in a concert tour to Vienna and in the winter of 1830–31 returned there for follow-up appearances. A week after he arrived, Poland erupted in political uprising. He remained in Vienna until July 1831, after which he gradually made his way to a new life in France, never again to return to his homeland.

Before he left Poland, Chopin spent time in the countryside around Warsaw, where he absorbed the flavor of local folk music. The mazurka is a dance derived from folk song. It takes its name from the mazur, a dance named after the Polish district of Mazuria, though it also bears the characteristics of other peasant dances in triple meter, with a strong accent on the second or third beat of the bar. Mazurkas are the most represented genre in Chopin’s oeuvre: he published forty-one of them during his lifetime, and another dozen or so remained in manuscript.—From notes by JAMES M. KELLER, SCOTT FOGLESONG, MICHAEL STEINBERG, and STEVEN ZIEGLER