Chopin's Ballade in G minor, op.23

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Subject: Piano » Classical Piano
Last updated: 20/06/2010
Tags: inspirational figures, piano

Ballade in G Minor, Op.23                                                           Chopin (1810 – 1849)



Chopin’s music has become ubiquitous enough to forbid almost any comment on it claiming originality of insight. However, such is the universality of its powerfully expressive language that the music of this truly unique composer will surely never lose its appeal to both listener and interpreter alike. It is important to note Chopin’s place in musical history. It is this dynamic that informed his creative vernacular calling as he did on the inspiration of the Baroque and early Classical periods and proceeding to fashion an unmistakeable style without obvious antecedents and also no apparent debt to contemporaries. In many ways this exemplifies the emerging notion of the Romantic creator-hero whose response to the unassailable forces of emotion is manifested as an art work. Such a work therefore forms a commentary on a spiritual journey without programmatic associations demonstrated in its highest and least associative form by Chopin.

It has been often assumed that Chopin’s Ballades were directly inspired by the poetry of Adam Mickiewicz, whose epic Konrad Wallenrod (1828) may have been well known by Chopin who would also have been aware of the burgeoning spirit of Polish revival engendered by the poet. After spending his early years in Warsaw Chopin’s arrival in Paris in September 1831 coincided with a marked change in his artistic outlook. Having previously attracted public attention by expertly crafting comparatively lightweight genre pieces the Paris years saw ‘Chopin’s music (acquiring) an intensity, a passion, at times a terrifying power, which can rather easily suggest an inner life whose turmoils were lived out in music’ (Samson, ‘The Four Ballades’ Cambridge, 1992). The G Minor Ballade belongs to this period.

The sweeping recitative of the work’s opening Largo powerfully sets the scene for the ensuing drama. An aria follows in the home key of G Minor as a halting triple metre is established tinged with tragedy. This theme, analogous to the first subject in a Classical sonata gathers energy and force until its growing agitation leads to sweeping arpeggios that resolve into a subdued second theme in E-flat Major. Elements of the first theme are transformed as an uneasy peace is achieved. A climactic statement of the second theme surges towards a vertiginous waltz from which tragedy seems infinitely far removed. Momentum breathlessly subsides back into the music of the initial aria where brooding tensions accumulate until their release in a cathartic presto con fuoco. The drama concludes with reminiscences of the opening recitative and a final headlong rush to the crushing final bars.

The music of the G Minor Ballade fully illustrates the sentiment expressed by the philosopher George Steiner, ‘the singular concision of complex moods in Chopin defies discourse’ (Steiner, Real Presences, Chicago, 1989) which hints at the mystery of Chopin’s inspiration and universal powers of articulating to us something of our deepest humanity.


Frederick Scott









Fred Scott Classical Piano Teacher (Croydon)

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