Nationalism in Poland in the 19th Century (Part 5)

Scherzos and Ballades are Chopin’s new conception of romantic musical form where he developed new means of expression. In France in the XIVth century the term ‘ballad’ meant a form of poetry, usually sung. In the XVth century Ballad evolved into a vocal composition - the highest voice singing melody with the text was accompanied by two lower voices.

In 1831 in Vienna Fryderyk Chopin composed his first Ballade. Very characteristic of an instrumental Ballad are its narrative style and lyricism. What the vocal ballad has in common with the instrumental ballad is its epic style. It especially applies to the story-telling nature of the theme. This effect is achieved by musical means. For this purpose, Chopin shapes long phrases and widely develops thematic work, sometimes by completely transforming the original character of the theme. Because of the poetic inspiration of Ballades, we may find a connection between them a symphonic poem. Although Chopin does not specify a non-musical source, his Ballades illustrate the program only by using instrumental means. In a symphonic poem it is achieved by orchestra, in Chopin’s Ballades by piano. Moreover, in Chopin’s Ballades we can notice the influence of Polish literature. Ballades are inspired by the Lithuanian Ballads of Adam Mickiewicz. Chopin knew Mickiewicz personally, read his books and attended his lectures at the College in France.

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Ballade in G minor op. 23 no. 1

This Ballade starts with tempo rubato and creates a feeling of waking up from a reverie. Melody of the beginning is very melancholic, nostalgic. It rises and falls in 6/4 metre. When a new theme comes, music becomes more dramatic. Everything that was only a dream, becomes more realistic and serious.  What happens next, recalls a shape of sonata allegro. After the exposition, the development section features two themes in A minor and A major. They undergo different transformations and at the end a new theme is being introduced. In the reprise Chopin presents two themes in their original keys but in a different order. The piece finishes with a coda full of dynamism and brilliance.

Edyta Lajdorf BMus (Hons), MMus, LRSM, SMISM - concert pianist and piano teacher (piano lessons London).

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