Opus 40 contains 2 polonaises, one in A major, which is often known as the ‘military’ polonaise, and the second polonaise is in C minor, often known as the ‘elegiac’ polonaise. In Opus 40, Chopin emphasises the elements of piano virtuosity. They include spectacular repetitions of the chords, the lustrous and powerful tones of both themes, the fanfare-like trio and imitating the faint roll of the orchestra’s drum are the trills in the tie (bars 41-49) in the A major Polonaise no. 1, as opposed to the peculiar ‘contrapuntal virtuosity’ (bars 71-81) and the fascinating dialogue and multi-part playing in the second theme (bars 19-40) and in the trio of the ‘elegiac’ Polonaise in C minor no. 2.

The first of the two has several identifying features:

  • Most noticeable is the original rhythm- this rhythm defines this piece and has earned the piece its title as the ‘Military Polonaise’.
  • Triplet semi-quavers occur very frequently, usually played in both hands at once. One of these follows the original theme.
  • Repeated octaves in both hands simultaneously come up quite frequently.
  • The second main theme first comes in on bar 25.
The difficulties a pianist may have when learning this piece:
  • The incredibly large chords, for example in bar 12, the chord for the right hand uses 6 notes.
  • The fast, semi-quaver octaves, for example, bar 48 is a crescendo into fff with octave chromatic scales in contrary motion in semi-quavers.
  • The ornaments, for example bar 96.
Overall this is one of the low/medium difficulty polonaises. It has nothing incredibly difficult in it. I would give it a difficulty of 6/10.

The Second of the pair is about the same difficulty as the first. The identifying features are:

  • The theme is in the left hand, and the accompaniment in the right. The accompaniment is very repetitive, using for the main theme C minor chords.
  • The four semi-quaver rhythms used throughout in the left hand.
Points of difficulty:
  • At the end of the semi-quaver phrases in the left hand, the drop is quite large. This leap must be carried out smoothly and quickly. It is quite easy to ‘miss’ if played at full speed.
  • The second section is quite fast and fiddly, and it must still show the contrast between the ff and the p near the start.
  • Bars 91-96 present another technical difficulty, as the two parts are both moving in semi-quavers, but with different notes in each hand (it is not in octaves).
This piece is moderately difficult, and I would give it a difficulty rating of 6.5/10.