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Archive for the ‘Ballades’ Category

The third of Chopin’s four Ballades for the piano has been called “probably the only 19th century ballade with a happy ending (as well as being the only ballade of Chopin’s that ends on a major chord).”

But there’s quite a journey it takes before that happy resolution, both in the literary allusion to a tragic short story by Adam Mickiewicz, and in the technical challenge outlined by pianist Paul Cantrell in his excellent blog and podcast In The Hands:


In everything Chopin writes, no matter how complex and virtuosic, that powerful simplicity is there at the core. Although he wrote some very difficult and impressive stuff, the ultimate effect of his music, I feel, should never really be to impress. But that’s exactly what the pianists we usually hear are striving to do: impress the contest judges, the critics, the public. The world we classical performers live in gives us very little room not to play big show pieces, or make everything we play into one.

Chopin’s third ballade suffers particularly from this problem. The ballades are all difficult, but it’s the easiest of them (sort of like the shortest Himalaya). It seems as though all the star performers I’ve heard end up trying to make it as hard as the others by plowing through it with virtuosic flare, and thus trivializing it.

What wonderful music it is that gets plowed under when that happens! I could spend the whole next month talking about this piece, about how Chopin plays with the sense of return, about his use of dissonance as an architectural device, about all those wonderful melodies … but for now, I’ll just leave you with this one thought to perhaps open a mental door: The melody that opens the piece is the stepping-off point for all that follows in the next two and a half minutes, but then it disappears, and the music goes somewhere else entirely. Listen for it. The experience of wanting that melody to return, and it not returning and not returning and then — that’s the force that shapes the piece.

chopinpiano2.jpeg Click on the piano to hear Chopin Project pianist Kay Zavislak perform Chopin’s Ballade No. 3 in A-flat, Op. 47.

 BalladesFind the sheet music here.

Read the Wikipedia entry on the Ballade No. 3 here.

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Ballade in G minor, Op. 23 In the previous post we discussed an all-time Chopin favorite, the Nocturne in E-flat, Op. 9, No. 2. What then, is left to say about another Chopin classic – this Ballade in G minor?Plenty, it would appear. There’s an extremely technical description in the La Folia online music reveiew by Beth Levin:

…..A rhythm of 6/4 suggests an underlying waltz, as does the set of chords that plays off each melody note. Further, the chords lie under portamento slurs which give them shape, gently tug at the second and third beats, and increase the inherent dance quality. However, a waltz in G minor is colored by the key and therefore imbued with a tender poignancy. One dances, but with a heavy heart….

Then there’s an entire dissertation by a Swedish graduate student. Here’s his abstract:

The purpose of this work is to make a general presentation of Chopin, the age in which he lived, his G minor Ballade and selected editions of the Ballade. I will also compare five recordings of the G minor Ballade, and make a presentation and a recording of my own interpretation of the G minor Ballade. This work discusses his life up to the time the Ballade was published, Chopin’s development as a composer, and the period in his life when the Ballade was composed. Background material on the history of the Ballade as a genre and its development is included to give the reader an enhanced contextual understanding. The issue as to whether Chopin had a literary model when composing the G minor Ballade and his relationship with the Polish writer Adam Mickiewicz is discussed. This work considers the issue of form in the G minor Ballade, Chopin’s personality, how Chopin played, his use ofthe term ‘tempo rubato’, and how he used improvisation and composition.

Make what you will of this interpretation of an Arturo Benedetti Michalangeli fansite:

Miracle seems really a shortfall, rather than a longfall, when it is applied with Michelangeli’s Chopin (especially the Ballade in G minor, op. 23; Deutsche Grammophon 413 449-2): water seem to be loosing ground against the lack of distance. With proper distance however, there is a possibility the water might fall with greater flow and maturity. Michelangeli drive for that aim is to have more miracle and less than a human spirit is ultimately tested against the harsh background where one finds a waterfall equipped with sophisticated break-system.

Chopin primarily conceived the Work to be played out amongst the adult fellowship society of his peers nonetheless amounting to no fewer than the very composer himself as the sole guest. Chopin somehow wanted the work to be played by grownups; yet he himself when he conceived all this was a child. His excess employment of piano’s sustaining pedal is no justification for the larger framework thereof. He might have been using the principle to get beyond the fantastic element in the piano: he incorporated it into the Work very stylishly that the importance of the pedal desists when it is fused into the work as a whole. Sophistication still is called for. It is up to the individual pianist to start where it gains ground and appears appropriate to begin constructing the superstructure.

Last word goes to Arthur Greene:

The G minor Ballade, if I play it correctly, should need no introduction.

Listen to Arthur Greene’s performance of the Chopin Ballade in G minor, Op. 23

View and download the sheet music here.

Want more? Deeper into the Web we go. How about this “Interpretation of the Narrative Grammar of Chopin’s Ballade in G minor?”

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