on Feb 10th, 2009Frédéric Chopin Ballade Op. 23 No. 1
The Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23 is the first of Frédéric Chopin’s four ballades for solo piano. It was composed in 1835-36 during the composer’s early days in Paris and is dedicated to “Monsieur le Baron de Stockhausen,” Hanoverian ambassador to France.
Chopin cited the poet Adam Mickiewicz as an influence for his ballades (this according to a rumour based on a remark by Robert Schumann concerning the genesis of Chopin’s second ballade). The exact inspiration for each piece is not clear.
The music is built from two main themes, the first introduced in bar 7 after the short introduction, and the second in bar 69. Both themes return in different guises. The piece is in compound duple time (6/4) except for the short introduction (in 4/4) and the coda (in 2/2). Sections of the piece are technically demanding, requiring complex fingering, wide chords, octaves, extremely fast chords, and even a section of chromatic chords near the end. Its complex structure combines ideas from sonata and variation forms.
Schumann wrote in a letter to Heinrich Dorn about the Ballade, “I received a new Ballade from Chopin. It seems to be a work closest to his genius (although not the most ingenious) and I told him that I like it best of all his compositions. After quite a lengthy silence he replied with emphasis, ‘I am happy to hear this since I too like it most and hold it dearest.’”
In the coda (”Presto con fuoco”) there is a passage which is very similar (possibly intentionally) to one in the third movement of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 23 “Appassionata”.
The ballade was played twice by Janusz Olejniczak in the Roman Polanski film The Pianist. The first time, a few bars are heard when the pianist Władysław Szpilman “plays the piano” in the air in the abandoned German hospital. The second time, an approximately 4 minute-cut is heard in the film, while a full version is included in the film soundtrack.
In the 1944 Ingrid Bergman film Gaslight, the ballade was played by a pianist at the musical gathering she attends.