Frédéric Chopin’s four Ballades are one-movement pieces for solo piano, composed between 1835 and 1842 in various parts of France and Spain. They are some of the most challenging pieces in the standard piano repertoire.
The term “ballade” was associated with French poetry until the mid-19th century, when Chopin was among the first to pioneer the ballade as a musical form. The influence for these four Ballades is claimed to be the poet Adam Mickiewicz. The exact inspiration for each individual Ballade, however, is unclear and disputed. It is clear, however, that they are a novel innovation of Chopin’s, and that the Ballades cannot be placed into another (e.g. the sonata) form. The Ballades have also directly influenced composers such as Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms who, after Chopin, wrote Ballades of their own. Besides the sharing of the title, the four ballades are distinct entities from each other. According to composer and music critic Louis Ehlert, “Each [Ballade] differs entirely from the others, and they have but one thing in common – their romantic working out and the nobility of their motives.” The four ballades are among the most enduring of Chopin’s compositions, and are frequently heard in concerts today.
The Ballade No. 1 in G minor Op. 23 is the first of Frédéric Chopin’s four ballades. It was composed in 1835-36 during the composer’s early days in Paris and was dedicated to Monsieur le Baron de Stockhausen, Hanoverian ambassador to France, and reportedly inspired by Adam Mickiewicz’s poem Konrad Wallenrod. Chopin seemed to have been fond of the piece; in a letter to Heinrich Dorn, Robert Schumann commented that, “I received a new Ballade from Chopin. It seems to be a work closest to his genius (although not the most ingenious) and I told him that I like it best of all his compositions. After quite a lengthy silence he replied with emphasis, ‘I am happy to hear this since I too like it most and hold it dearest.’” The piece begins with a brief introduction which is thematically unrelated to the rest of the piece. It ends with a dissonant left hand chord D, G, and E-flat. Though Chopin’s original manuscript clearly marks an E-flat as the top note, the chord has caused some degree of controversy, and thus, some versions of the work - such as the Klindworth edition - include D, G, D as an ossia. The main section of the ballade is built from two main themes. The brief introduction fades into the first theme, introduced at measure 7. After some elaboration, the second theme is introduced softly at measure 69. This theme is also elaborated on. Both themes then return in different keys, and the first theme finally returns again in the same key, albeit with an altered left hand accompaniment. A thundering chord introduces the coda, marked Presto con fuoco, which ends the piece. As a whole, the piece is structurally complex and not strictly confined to any particular form, but incorporates ideas from mainly the sonata and variation forms.
Technically, many passages of the ballade require rapid scales, very fast and large chords, octaves, and difficult fingerings. A distinguishing feature of the Ballade No. 1 is its time signature. While all the other ballades are written in strict compound duple time, with a 6/8 time signature, this ballade bears deviations from this. The introduction is written in 4/4 time, and the more extensive Presto con fuoco coda is written in 2/2. The rest of the piece is written in 6/4, rather than the 6/8 which characterizes the other ballades.
This ballade is one of the more popular Chopin pieces. It is prominently featured in the 2002 Roman Polanski film The Pianist, where an approximately four-minute cut is played by Janusz Olejniczak. It is also played in the 1944 film Gaslight and heard in the 2006 satire Thank You for Smoking. Many noteworthy pianists have performed and recorded the piece, including Vladimir Horowitz, Alfred Cortot, Arthur Rubinstein, Maurizio Pollini, Krystian Zimmerman & Emil Gilels.
Main Theme of Ballade No.1
One of the most interesting interpretations I’ve ever heard. Every note was literally singing. Bravo.
HAve you heard Anais Mitchell’s version? I’m not sure if she uses one of the traditional tunes or not, but I like it
Her version isn’t traditional and it has by far the best tune of any I know! I should see if I can find chords for it–when she sings it she doesn’t include a lot of the lines that are Important To Me but it does scan to the standard ballad so I could probably adapt it.
A little AU ficlet in which Adam and Kurt live in neighboring apartments instead of being NYADA schoolmates.
Adam looked up from his book in frustration when the sounds of hammering and drilling began again. All day long, whoever it was that had moved in next door a couple of weeks ago had been bashing about in an apparent frenzy of home-improvement. Which, normally, would not have been any of Adam’s business. Live and let live was his motto and if his neighbor happened to be Bob the Builder, well, that was fine.
Fiona Apple is an artist I have literally grown up with
I feel like a lot of her early music informed and validated my anger
there are lyrics and melodies of hers that I still carry with me to this day, that I’ll have with me all my life
Fiona is someone who I’ve learned a lot from — her songs are like poetry, and I remember looking up a lot of her words, always captivated, like, “why would she choose that word or phrase? why would a 17-year-old write a song called ‘Carrion’? what’s going on here? what is this woman’s story?”
Fiona has always been brutally honest about everything she’s been through — about being raped as a child, about struggling with eating disorders all her life, about being a hermit and an adult obsessed with parenting herself — and that has always been an important and righteous thing to witness
her songs detail these fragments of her existence, and I cannot choose a single favorite because they have all impacted me
as I get older, I appreciate her rawest strains of music