This week we begin a new series on the Ballades for piano by Frederic Chopin.
Chopin’s four Ballades for solo piano are some of the difficult pieces in the piano repertoire. As their name suggests, they are meant to evoke an almost medieval story-telling atmosphere. They are unique in that they don’t fit into any of the common musical formats that we tend to associate with solo piano music. For instance, they don’t have the structure of a sonata but they also lack the characteristics of a caprice.
The first Ballade was written in 1831, and it is said that, at the time, he viewed it as his best composition. This sentiment was shared by the great pianist and composer Robert Schumann, who simply told Chopin that it was the closest thing he had ever heard to pure genius. You will hear two primary themes in the music. The first comes within the first minute of the piece, directly after the introductory material that lasts only a few bars. This theme is more serene and lyrical, although when it is recapped later in the piece Chopin utilizes more of the keyboard to lend it some additional power. You will hear the second theme arrive around the six-minute mark of the video above. This second theme enters with an additional level of grandeur and nobility. Around 7:50, you will hear the beginning of the Coda, which is the final flourish of the Ballade. Chopin uses this “race to the finish” to provide a dramatic ending to the piece.