Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
The four Ballades of Chopin occupy a unique position within his output and in the repertory of keyboard music. Although Chopin was not the only composer to utilize the form, he is credited as being the first to adapt the ballade to the piano. His efforts resulted in the creation of a unique type of single-movement piano piece characterized by an inherent narrative quality.
Several individuals and events were influential in shaping the musical personality of Chopin. Adalbert Zwyny and Joseph Elsner provided piano and theory instruction in Chopin’s youth. The virtuosity of Hummel, Paganini, and Field affected Chopin as a composer and as a performer. Italian opera also exerted an influence upon his compositional style. Influential events include the struggles of Poland, the Romantic Movement, and Chopin’s battle against tuberculosis.
Chopin’s musical style is characterized by elaborate ornamentation of melodies, use of rapid figuration, and chromatic harmonies. An overview of Chopin’s music demonstrates his individuality in the treatment of both small and large-scale works.
A popular genre of the Romantic Period was that of the character piece. The character pieces, subjective in nature, ranged in length from short pieces to more extended works. Chopin revitalized existing forms through his innovative compositional devices, creating both small-scale and large-scale character pieces.
The Ballades occupy a unique position within Chopin’s output due to their inherent narrative quality. The Ballades contain the drama and suspense of the literary ballad without the presence of an actual story.
Several writers have suggested a direct association of the Chopin Ballades with the literary ballads of Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz. Due to the fact that there is no documented evidence to support the existence of a direct literary association, it is probable that Chopin chose to emulate features of narrative style rather than content of the literary ballad.
Features of narrative style common to the Chopin Ballades and the literary ballad of the time include the following: suggestion of the presence of an unidentified narrator, present tense, suspenseful unfolding of the narrative, incremental repetition, characters in conflict, and a tragic or dramatic ending. A discussion of each of the Chopin Ballades in terms of structure and narrative style demonstrates the specific compositional features which Chopin used to create drama and suspense comparable to that of the literary ballad. The structure of each Ballade is analyzed in terms of Chopin’s use of passage-work and treatment of individual themes. A comparison and contrast of compositional and narrative techniques utilized within the four Ballades attempts to explain their divergence of form.
Brakel, Janell E., "The Ballades of Frederic Chopin" (1981). Theses and Dissertations. 451.