Frederic Chopin, Richard Wagner and the Tristan Chord

Home / Blog / Frederic Chopin, Richard Wagner and the Tristan Chord

Frédéric Chopin – Richard Wagner

Mazurka op. 68/4 and the Tristan Chord

In this clip I focus on a specific feature that a piece of Frederic Chopin and Richard Wagner have in common, which in fact struck me as a surprise: they literally share part of the „Tristan-chord”.

Frederic Chopin wrote his very last piece in 1849, the Mazurka op. 68/4 in f-Minor. He died shortly afterwards. Chopin left this Mazurka as a sketch, rather difficult to decipher, hence as a fragment, that has been diligently reconstructed. I am following the Henle Urtext Edition in this clip (which is referring to Franchomme’s reconstruction).

The f-Minor Mazurka op. 68/4 is a very poetic rather introvert miniature. It’s full of harmonic, often chromatic, colors that stretch the tonal context to its fullest. Although one of Chopin’s shortest Mazurkas it is a grand, earnest emotional statement and a very complex piece of music.

As mentioned above, in Frederic Chopin’s Mazurka you literally find the chord (bar 14) to which Richard Wagner resolved his “Tristan Chord“. That is the famous chord (bar 2-3) of the beginning of his opera “Tristan und Isolde”, premiered in 1865. In Chopin’s Mazurka you find the chromatic line in the top voice that Richard Wagner also sets as top voice in the oboes (the line that finally leads into the resolution of the Tristan chord), and you even find the famous Tristan Chord itself, although with basic enharmonic differences, C flat, E flat, A flat (Chopin) instead of B, D sharp and G sharp (Wagner). Is it a mere coincidence? Probably not, I assume. But this way or the other, it does not matter. I was merely surprised that (so far) there’s little to find about Wagner „quoting“ Chopin. I will gladly share with you what I find, if I find more about it.

On purpose or not, for me as a performing artist I find extremely fascinating how those two composers arranged similar thoughts very differently. Just listen, how Chopin proceeds after that chord in bar 13/14! a harmonic miracle it seems (although very logic if you look closely), and how Wagner proceeds, another miracle!… And surely there are several and several further thoughts attached to this, which are inspiring to follow through. Enjoy!

© Gerda Struhal, 2019

Piano, Gerda Struhal
Text, Gerda Struhal

Thanks to Henle Urtext Edition and Eulenburg/Schott Verlag to agree to the use of their material for this clip.