Ballade No.1 Op.23, dates to sketches Chopin made in 1831 during his eight-month remain in Vienna. It was completed in 1835 after his transfer to Paris, where he devoted it to Baron Nathaniel von Stockhausen, the Hanoverian ambassador to France. In 1836 Robert Schumann commented that, “I got a brand-new Ballade from Chopin. It seems to be a work closest to his genius (although not the most innovative) and I told him that I like it best of all his compositions. After rather a lengthy silence he replied with emphasis, ‘I more than happy to hear this considering that I too like it most and hold it dearest.'”.
The piece begins with a brief introduction which, contrary to popular belief, is not unrelated to the rest of the piece. Written in first inversion of the A-flat major chord, it is a Neapolitan chord that implies a majestic aura, ending in a dissonant, questioning left hand chord D, G, and E-flat that is not resolved until later on in the piece. Though Chopin’s original manuscript clearly marks an E-flat as the top note, the chord has caused some degree of controversy, and thus, some versions of the work– such as the Klindworth edition– include D, G, D as an ossia. The main section of the Ballade is built from two main themes. The brief introduction fades into the first theme, introduced at measure 8. After some elaboration, the second theme is introduced softly at measure 68. This theme is also elaborated on. Both themes then return in different keys, and the first theme finally returns again in the same key, albeit with an altered left hand accompaniment. A thundering chord introduces the coda, marked Presto con fuoco, to which the initial Neapolitan harmony re-emerges in constant dynamic forward propulsion, which eventually ends the piece in a fiery double octave scale run down the keyboard. As a whole, the piece is structurally complex and not strictly confined to any particular form, but incorporates ideas from mainly the sonata and variation forms.
Get the Ballade No.1 Op.23 Chopin Piano Sheet Music here!
A distinguishing feature of Ballade No. 1 is its time signature. While the other three are written in strict compound duple time with a 6/8 time signature, Ballade No. 1 bears deviations from this. The introduction is written in 4/4 time, and the more extensive Presto con fuoco coda is written in 2/2. The rest of the piece is written in 6/4, rather than the 6/8 which characterizes the others.
Ballade No. 1 is featured on the soundtrack to the 2002 Roman Polanski film The Pianist, where it is played by Janusz Olejniczak. It also appears in the 1991 film Impromptu; Chopin is playing this piece when he is interrupted by George Sand and meets her for the first time. The piece was the subject of the 2012 BBC documentary Chopin Saved My Life. It is quoted in Mieczysław Weinberg’s Symphony No. 21 (” Kaddish”).
In 2010, the editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, dedicated a year to learning Ballade No. 1 and produced a book about the experience, Play It Again: An Amateur Against the Impossible.
|Name Translations:||Balada nº1; Ballade Nr. 1; バラード第1番; Ballada op. 23; Ballata n. 1 op. 23; Ballade nº 1 (Chopin); Балада № 1 (Шопен); Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23; Ballade nr. 1; בלדה מס’ 1 בסול מינור, אופוס 23; Balada para piano n.º 1 en sol menor op. 23|
|Opus/Catalogue Number:||Op. 23|
|I-Catalogue Number:||IFC 5|
|Year/Date of Composition:||1831? (first version), 1834-5? (final version)|
|Dedication:||A Mr. le Baron [Nathaniel] de Stockhausen (Hanover’s ambassador to Paris)|