‘Héroique’, the Polonaise in A flat Major, Op 53, took form at the same time (1842-43) as the fourth ballad and the fourth scherzo. Already the contemporary accounts of its performance invoked images of patriotism, nationalism and the call to arms. Chopin seemed to be unhappy when the piece was played fast and did not increase volume much in the octaves (Gutman/Niecks). According to Liszt, the composer often played the episode in F minor (bars 138-151) ‘like the muffled rumbling of a distant cannon’. In this polonaise, Chopin no longer used the form of the early Warsaw ones and instead reinterpreted it as an evocation of past splendour and a symbol of Poland, a true agent of cultural nationalism. Indeed, works like this one became a model for composers who referred to their own native folk music and thus launched the so-called ‘national schools’.
from notes by Robert Andres © 2005