Recorded on 12/06/2005, uploaded on 01/23/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
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
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
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
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.
Courtesy of International Music Foundation.
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