Classical Music | Piano Music

Johannes Brahms

Ballade No. 1 in d minor, Andante, Op. 10  Play

Sevgi Giles Piano

Recorded on 12/06/2005, uploaded on 01/08/2009

Musician's or Publisher's Notes

Four Ballades, Op. 10           Johannes Brahms 

Ballade No. 1 in d minor, Andante

During the month of February 1854, Robert Schumann's mental troubles worsened, leading finally to his confinement in an institution at the beginning of March.  From then onwards, Brahms's friendship with him was to become a source of sadness and pain, and it was during the first months of that tragic year of 1854 that the young Brahms wrote his Four Ballades.

The first, an Andante in D minor, captivates the listener with an atmosphere evocative of ancient legends.  Schumann himself lavished praise on the "strange newness" of this dramatic piece.  The second Ballade, also marked Andante but this time in D major, is full of contrast; the lyrical espressivo dolce section is set off against the rhythmic pugnaciousness of the allegro ma non troppo.  The third Ballade, marked Allegro and entitled Intermezzo, is in B minor and takes the shape of a scherzo.  The questioning rhythms of the outer episodes are set against the mysterious color of the central trio.  Op. 10 comes to a close with an Andante con moto in B major.  The dramatic mood is altogether over, and the piece is deeply meditative, in a way that foreshadows Brahms's very last works for the piano.     Sevgi Giles


Four Ballades, op. 10      Johannes Brahms

The Ballades, op. 10 were composed in the summer of 1854 and represent some of his early compositions for piano. They also serve as the predecessor to the short, lyrical piece that would virtually dominate his piano output later in life.

As stated by Jim Samson in his book The Music of Chopin, the term Ballade "carries no formal expectations whatever...the innocent ear will have no a priori reference point." Essentially, there is no designated formal pattern for the Ballade and the composer is guided only by his own imagination. Samson further notes the "narrative" quality of Frederic Chopin's four Ballades and the influence of sonata principles. It is possible that Brahms was to a degree influenced by Chopin's Ballades when composing his own set. However, Brahms' Ballades are simpler in regards to their formal structure-each Ballade is more or less a ternary form with clear divisions. Furthermore, while Chopin's were published separately, Brahms intended his Ballades as a coherent group and were published under the same opus number. It seems that Brahms took the term "Ballade" as suggestive of the form and mood of ballad poetry. Indeed, the first of the set was inspired by the Scottish ballad Edward, and the music fits the words of the poem, whether in the original Scottish or Herder's German translation that Brahms was familiar with.

The Ballades are organized into two pairs in parallel keys:

  • No. 1 in D minor. Andante
  • No. 2 in D major. Andante
  • No. 3 in B minor. Intermezzo: Allegro
  • No. 4 in B major. Andante con moto

The first Ballade begins with plaintive chords with thirds at the top and open fifths at the bottom. The result is a haunting sound that Brahms used in later compositions. The middle section changes to the key of D major and is dominated by a fanfare-like figure. However, there is no new theme as one would expect in the middle section of ternary form. Instead, Brahms treats the section almost in the manner of a sonata form development.

The second Ballade is thoroughly Brahmsian. It presents first a lyrical almost lullaby-like melody over a syncopated accompaniment. A sudden key change to B minor ushers in the contrasting middle section at double the tempo of the opening. Through a long process, the original lullaby tune and, ultimately, the original D major tonality are regained to close the Ballade.

The third Ballade, while titled Intermezzo, is in fact a scherzo, a form for which Brahms showed an early mastery. Writing from the asylum, Schumann suggested that "demoniacal" would be an appropriate epithet for this Ballade. The trio modulates to the key of F-sharp major and possesses an ethereal quality.

The final Ballade sounds more like Schumann than Brahms at the beginning, but the mysterious middle section presents a tenor theme in the middle of the piano texture, a technique Brahms was fond of using.

Finally, it is interesting to note that the four Ballades have a strong structural unity. First, they are held together by their related tonalities. In addition, while the last Ballade is not in the same key as the first, the set does display some traits of a sonata. The first Ballade is a miniature sonata form, the second is partially a slow movement, the third is the scherzo, and the fourth, due to its lyricism and chorale-like melody towards the end could possibly serve as a finale. Whether these sonata-like traits were intentional or not, it does help to make the Ballades, op. 10 a unified work with each Ballade dependent on the others.

Joseph DuBose