Recorded on 03/11/2008, uploaded on 01/20/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Composed during 1836-39, Chopin’s second ballade for the piano, in the opinion of many pianists and scholars, failed to live up to the reputation of his first example of the genre. Even Robert Schumann, to whom the work was dedicated, found it less ingenious than the Ballade No. 1. Whereas the first ballade was imaginative and captivating, the second seems to be rigidly tied to its form creating a sense of technical strictness instead of inspired composition.
As with the first ballade, it is generally accepted that the poetry of Adam Mickiewicz, though there is some dispute as to which particular poem, served as Chopin’s source of inspiration. One possibility is the poem Świtezianka. However, this poem may have also served as the inspiration behind the third ballade as well. Regardless, whatever literary source that may have sparked Chopin’s imagination is irrelevant to the listener or to understanding the piece. In this sense, Chopin was a Classicist and understood quite well that music is too abstract a medium to effectively convey imagery or characterization from composer, though performer, to listener.
Beginning simply with reiterated notes upon the dominant of the tonic key of F, the opening Andantino blossoms into a genuine melody seemingly mid-strain as if it was just becoming audible in the distance. This pastoral theme, throughout set in a homophonic texture, forms the first thematic section of the ballade’s somewhat abnormal form. Brief shadows emerge towards the end of the theme as the tonality of A minor creeps in as an ominous sign of the ensuing second theme. Marked Presto con fuoco, the tempestuous second theme in A minor erupts furiously after the sublime close of the first. Ultimately finding itself in the distant key of A-flat minor, the tempest gradually subsides, with sparse chords over ostinato runs in the bass, into a restatement of first theme. Beginning in F major but soon departing that key, this middle section takes on a quasi-developmental character. It is clear that the storm clouds of the second theme still hang over the pastoral scene. A stretto passage brings about the return of the second theme, this time beginning in the key of D minor. In place of a final reprise of the first theme and rounding out what could have been a sonata form, the second theme gives way to an agitato coda in A minor. Coming to a dramatic close on a discord, there follows a brief and quite partial restatement of the first theme. The final cadence then brings the piece to a pessimistic close, not in the tonic, but in the key of A minor. Joseph DuBose
Frederic Chopin is claimed by both France and Poland as their national composer. Thus, Chopin's body is buried in le Cimetière du Père Lachaise in Paris, France, but his heart is buried in Poland. In the late 19th century, Chopin's music was an intimate communication, an icon, an agent of cultural and even political propaganda. In this respect, it held up a mirror to conflicting ideologies at a critical period in music history, on the cusp between classical and modernist notions of art. In the second Ballade, we hear a dramatic confrontation of contrasted materials, heightened by a two-key scheme. Chopin's world might have related this to the classic formal ingredients of the brilliant style - bravura figuration squared off against popular melody, étude against siciliano. Hayk Arsenyan
Courtesy of International Music Foundation.
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