Today we wrap up our series on Chopin’s Ballades for solo piano with a wonderful performance by Krystian Zimmerman.
This Ballade was apparently inspired by the poem The Three Budrys by Adam Mickiewicz, but the poem isn’t about anything in particular so it is hard to say exactly what Chopin was thinking. However, his interpretive motivations did not stop him from connecting this Ballade to the previous three in a few important ways. For instance, you may hear near the end of the piece a refrain from the first Ballade. You may also notice that, like the three prior Ballades, this one is written in 6/8 time and has the same dancing, lilting feel to it. You may also note that it is in sonata form (opening, development, recapitulation), like the prior three Ballades. Finally, like the other three Ballades, the melody of this Ballade takes a few bars to truly open up. Rather than diving right into the main theme, Chopin starts with hesitation and takes his time developing the opening theme.
One of the most interesting ways to listen to this piece is to think of it in layers of complexity. For instance, notice how (at around the 1:30 mark) the music gets just ever so slightly more dense. Then, at the 3:30 mark, a third layer is added. At the 6-minute mark, Chopin adds yet another set of twists and turns to the music (for you harmony nerds out there, he does this by returning to the subdominant while also adding an amazing layer of fourths in the right hand). By the time we reach the end of the piece, we have experienced the growth of the melody from simplicity to complexity.
I hope you have enjoyed this journey through the mind of the greatest pianist of all time. Let me know if you have any requests for future series!