Recorded on 07/09/2010, uploaded on 07/09/2010
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Until the early 19th century, the term “ballade” was applied specifically to French poetry dating as far back as the 1500s. These poems were sometimes set to music and retained the “ballade” title. Frédéric Chopin, however, was the first to apply the title to a purely instrumental composition with his Ballade No. 1 in G minor, composed in 1835-36. Three more ballades were composed during the following years and together all four are considered some of the finest works not only of Chopin’s oeuvre but also in the Romantic piano literature.
It is generally believed that the poetry of Adam Mickiewicz served as the inspiration of Chopin’s four ballades and this would certainly explain their literary title. However, the ballades are not musical evocations of any distinct imagery or characterizations of their poetic source. If indeed Chopin was inspired to write the ballades after reading Mickiwicz’s poems, then at best the ballades are the composer’s own emotional responses. Chopin, in this sense, was a Classicist and understood that music is too abstract to convey specific imagery or characterization without the aid of the spoken word. Thus, the implication of a narrative is present in the title of “Ballade,” but the listener is free to allow their imagination invent their own story with Chopin’s music as its guide.
The first Ballade for piano, in G minor, was composed in 1835, three years after he arrived in Paris as a political exile following the November Uprising. It begins with a majestic Neapolitan sixth rising steadily upward from the lower range of the piano and then giving way to hushed tones suggesting the tonality of G minor but leaving it unconfirmed until the cadence leading into the exposition. The first theme of the Ballade’s sonata form begins quietly with a steady pace and with the uneasy feeling of suppressed emotions. Before long, first with rumblings in the bass that swell to engulf the entire texture, the music becomes increasingly agitated. The lyrical second theme, in the key of E-flat major, arrives following this turbulent transition and provides an effective contrast and momentary repose from the emotional outcries that preceded it. The development section opens with a restatement of the first theme but quickly builds into a passionate declaration of the second subject. A scherzando episodic section closes the section and leads into the recapitulation. Here, Chopin departs from the typical outline of sonata form by beginning with the reprise of the second theme instead of the first. Furthermore, this restatement also appears in the key in which it was heard in the exposition instead of being transposed into the tonic. Following the reprise of the first theme, Chopin concludes the piece with an agitated Presto coda. Rapid scales announce the end of the piece and thunderous and exhilarating octaves in both hands lead into the final chords. Joseph DuBose
Recorded on 5/25/2009. Uploaded on 7/9/2010.
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