Chopin, Ballade No.1 in G minor, Op. 23

December 15, 2019

Frédéric Chopin, 1810-1849

Ballade No.1 in G minor, Op. 23, 1831-1835

Frédéric Chopin Frédéric Chopin was a perfect miracle for the flowering of art music for the solo piano. His life almost perfectly coincides with the perfection of the instrument and its universal adoption as the solo instrument par excellence. But unlike the numerous performers and composers brandishing thundering feats of technical virtuosity that pushed the instrument and performer to their physical limits, Chopin brought only pure musical expression employing virtuosity and technique as means to an artistic end. With a fresh, novel approach to the piano, Chopin astonished and confounded the musicians of his day, essentially revealing a whole new domain of keyboard music uniquely his own becoming known as the “poet of the piano.”

While he composed almost exclusively for the piano, his innovations were not merely pianistic. Chopin expanded harmony, chromaticism, dissonance, rubato (expressive distortions of tempo), texture and color that had a lasting impact throughout 19th century. With extensive use of Polish folk and dance music (the mazurkas and polonaises), he is often regarded as the first Nationalist. With perfection of deeply expressive “miniature” character pieces (the prelude, nocturnes and ballads), he is often regarded as the greatest Romanticist. And in the age of pedagogic exercises and training etudes, he stands first and foremost a composer of music with his “studies” emerging as successful musical compositions regardless of their technical aims.

When Chopin made his debut in Paris in 1831 at the age of 21, as both pianist and composer, he was regarded as a mature artist along with a nearly total absence of criticism. And so it remained for the rest of his short life. To this day, his complete oeuvre remains in the repertoire defying the vicissitudes of style and fashion. Indeed, for the solo piano, Chopin is the most frequently played and popular composer forming the basis and the sine qua non of the canon.

Over 230 compositions of Chopin’s have survived and from those, his four Ballades are regarded as among his greatest achievements. Inspired by the narrative ballades of the Romantic poets, Chopin was the first to create a purely musical form, a narrative essentially based around contrasting themes that co-evolve through various transformations and episodes in waves that climax and resolve. Featuring Chopin’s seemingly endless supply of engaging melodies, extended harmonies, dazzling technique and unbounded expression, the ballades are brilliant showcases for his complete art.

The first Ballade in G minor projects an elegiac character with a sorrowful main theme that ultimately rages in a tragedy of finality within the devastating coda. The contrasting theme is lyrical, bright and hopeful becoming ever more grandiose and heroic with subsequent repetitions. A third section towards the middle projects a giddy abandon as a wild point of farthest remove from the sober melancholy that prevails.

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.