Recorded on 02/18/2009, uploaded on 05/07/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Throughout Franz Liszt’s oeuvre one can find many instances of luscious melodies, colorful harmonies and intense struggles. In his Ballade No. 2 in B minor, all of these elements come together to express the ghastly scenes, wild emotions, and the supernatural struggle of what is generally thought to be the work’s literary inspiration—Gottfried August Bürger’s Lenore. A prime example of the 18th century Gothic ballad, Lenore tells the story of a young woman desperately and anxiously awaiting news of her fiancé, William, who is away fighting with King Frederick in the Seven Years’ War. As the other warriors return home and receiving no news of William, Lenore struggles with God, blaming Him for the death of her beloved. During the night, a stranger who looks eerily like William arrives and offers to take Lenore to their marriage bed. However, the stranger is Death and takes her instead to the grave of her true William. The ground beneath her feat begins to crumble and Lenore is condemned to die at the grave of her beloved for blaspheming against God.
A remarkable advancement on Liszt’s first ballade, the Ballade in B minor opens with an ominous melody of long sustained tones, in the lower register of the piano, over frightening chromatic runs. The following second theme, on the other hand, could not be any more dramatically contrasted. A beautiful melody in F-sharp major, it floats as if without weight above the turmoil of the opening. Following a repetition of both themes, Liszt enters into an immense struggle in the second major section of the ballade. Harmonies and melodic fragments are hurled against each other amid violent fanfare-like motives. Yet, in the middle of this struggle emerges a brief melody of striking beauty followed by a restatement of the second theme from the opening. Racing furiously onward, the ominous first theme returns accompanied by thunderous octave passages. In the final section of the ballade, this theme reappears yet again but transformed into a solemn chant in B major. In the closing measures, a final restatement of the lyrical second theme leads to the end. Joseph DuBose
Courtesy of International Music Foundation.
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