Frederic Chopin is often considered by many music critics as one of the most prominent representatives of Romanticism in music. Among his most famous works, we can single out the great number of etudes, sonatas, vocal pieces, mazurkas, and many others. However, this composer is mostly renowned for his ballads; they have always been a subject of thorough analysis because they represent the evolvement of his style and performance technique. In this paper, we are going to compare Ballades Op. 23 and Op 52, the first and the fourth ballades, these waves of peace have always attracted close attention from many performers and music theorists. While discussing these opuses, we should place special emphasis on such aspects as their meter, structure, scale, themes, variations, tempo, and some others characteristics that cannot be disregarded. At this moment, it is rather difficult to advance any arguments but in my opinion, these two ballades illustrate how Chopin structured his musical pieces and how his approach changed over seven years, it became more complicated mostly in terms of performance. However, we should not limit the analysis only to this narrow framework.
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Before analyzing these musical pieces, it is of crucial importance for us to discuss such concepts as a musical ballad. Traditionally, it is a literary genre, which can be defined as narrative poetry. Chopin was arguably the first one to create a musical ballad. It should be taken into consideration that the composer was to some extent inspired by the poems of Adam Bernard Mickiewicz, one of the greatest Polish poets (Samson, p 88). Yet, it is impermissible for us to say that the composer only creates musical narration, such an approach does not reflect all the complexity of the authors works. In part, he describes the inner world of a person, his or her mood, and most intimate feelings.
As far as Ballade Op. 23 is concerned, we may say that one of its most distinctive features is dissonance, which means that Chopin gives preferences to unstable combinations of tone; this musical piece is full of rather unexpected notes that aim to disrupt the overall harmony. It would not be an exaggeration to state that dissonance has always been peculiar of the famous composer (Smialekl, p 64). Nevertheless, it should be taken into account that the author deliberately uses dissonance, it signifies the change in the mood and contributes to further development of the musical piece.
Moreover, some musical critics term Chopins work as recitative, which means that this peace emulates or probably it is better to say, recreates the rhythms of human speech. Such a hypothesis may not be rejected because this opus is partially based on Mickiewicz’s poem Conrad Wallenrod (Belotti, 44). Certainly, one may suggest that Chopin aims to reproduce certain conversations, yet, this ballad not only recreates the rhythms of speech, but it also shows the emotional evolvement and outbursts as well. Concerning this aspect, we should admit that the fourth opus also has such rupture or outbursts, but they occur in very few moments, and most musical critics concur that this feature immediately calls attention because it proves that the composers style has undergone some change. Nevertheless, it is still quite possible for us to call both ballades recitative.
In this regard, we should say that the recitative nature of this opus lies mostly in the tempo. It can be observed that there is virtually no gradual acceleration or deceleration of the tempo; on the contrary, there is a great number of sudden ritardando or speeding-ups. Perhaps, this is the main reason why this musical peace is often classified as recitative. On the whole, we can say that Chopin brilliantly combines prestissimo and vivacissimamente, with lento and moderate. This is one of the reasons why this piece is so difficult in terms of performance, these variations require prodigious skills from the musicians in order not to go off the tempo. In comparison, Op 52 is more contrapuntal, which means that Chopin makes smoother and more fluid, sudden rubatos no longer dominate the musical piece.
The meter of this opus is duple time; it is one of the characteristic features, which all four ballads have in common, but we cannot say that this is the only common denominator. The relation between these musical pieces is more complex, the comparison of these works shows that for a certain period Frederic Chopin invented the almost unique genre and proposed very different approaches to the organization of the musical ballade, at that moment it was unprecedented.
If we speak about the structure of Opus 22, we have to admit that it is rather difficult to mark out its major components. Certainly, according to traditional views, this peace can be subdivided into four parts: introduction, the first theme, transition, the second theme, and coda. But it appears that such division oversimplifies this work. Some scholars argue that such structural organization is typical of a sonata, yet, we may object to this statement because this ballad has some deviations from this particular genre (Dineen, p 31).
In its turn, each theme has its structure, and it is the most interesting detail in the ballad, itself. Probably, we need to elaborate this argument: each theme has exposition, transitional stage, and reprise or the return to the opening. As it has already been mentioned before, Chopins ballad abounds in dissonance, the thing is that each theme is introduced almost instantaneously, there is some kind of clash, which is often marked by dissonance. The transition is virtually omitted sometimes.
The most dominant tone of the piece is G minor, but Chopin occasionally combines it with A major and E major. At this moment, it is of the utmost significance for us to describe the cyclic nature of the first ballad. The thing is that the introductions, as well as coda, are marked by G minor. Such organization produces a very strong impression because the ending only intensifies the minor mode and creates rather a somber atmosphere. Naturally, it is just a matter of perception but it seems that Opt.22 is much more optimistic.
If we try to compare and contrast this musical piece with Op. 52, we must first point out that Frederic Chopin makes them both recitatives; the fourth ballad originates from Adam Mickiewicz’s poem Budri. Again, one should not regard them only as a narrative because they render not conversation or human speech but emotions. Frederic Chopin always attempted to recreate the inner world of a person; the drastic changes of tempo represent emotions and feelings. In part, this is the reason why both ballads are full of dissonances or sudden variations in the tempo.
Arguably, the main similarity between the ballads is their complexity. Chopins style is often characterized by the use of rubatos and ritardando. While performing the composers works, and these ballads, in particular, any musician must be careful not to linger, where it is unnecessary or not to over speed. The thing is this particular aspect, is the root cause of many mistakes, made by the performers of Chopins ballads.
The first and the fourth ballads have some similar features in the structural organization: they are strongly influenced by sonata, it is noticeable in the organization of the pieces, and we may mark out several constituent parts such for instance, introduction, two themes, and coda. However, this aspect shows also some distinctions, namely, in Op. 52, there is a reprise, which practically mirrors the introduction. Chopin does not want to reiterate the opening in the coda, and makes a considerable difference, especially if we are speaking about the tone.
In Op. 23, G minor is the predominant tone. Certainly, there are some alterations but the composer constantly attracts our attention to the fact that this opus is primarily minor. On the one hand, we may state that Op. 52 is also minor but there are more deviations. Nonetheless, there is one aspect that distinguishes the ballads. As it has been noted before, Op. 23 is somewhat encircled, which means that introduction and coda coincide in terms of tone, G minor, while in the fourth ballad Chopin does employ these techniques, the ending is marked by Major notes, whole the beginning is minor. Consequently, these states of peace produce different effects: Op. 52 is more optimistic.
Therefore, having analyzed the first and the fourth ballads by Frederic Chopin, we can arrive at the following conclusion. These two works illustrate the development of the composers style and demonstrate the changes in his performance technique. As regards the similarities between these two works, we should mention several aspects: first, both these works are in part inspired by the poems of Adam Mickiewicz. Secondly, they can be defined as recitative mostly due to the tempo variations. Additionally, we may speak about the influence of such genres as sonata; it is noticeable especially if we are speaking about the structure of these opuses.
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The difference between the ballads can be observed in such aspects as tone. Op. 23 is most G minor, whereas Op. 52 is dominated by F minor. Nonetheless, one of the most interesting details is the tonal structure of the ballads the first one can be called encircled, which means that its introduction and coda are G minor. In sharp contrast, in Op. 52 we can observe that A major ending. This effect significantly changes our perception of this piece. Another issue, which we should mention is the contrapuntal features of the fourth ballad. Naturally, it contains some rather sudden transitions but they are relatively few, in comparison with the first one. On the whole, we may say that these works are rightly viewed as classic examples of such genre musical ballad.
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