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- Chopin: The Man and His Music - 30/43 -
The close is very striking, full of the splendors of glancing scales and shrill octave progressions. "It would inspire a poet to write words to it," said Robert Schumann.
"Perhaps the most touching of all that Chopin has written is the tale of the F major Ballade. I have witnessed children lay aside their games to listen thereto. It appears like some fairy tale that has become music. The four-voiced part has such a clearness withal, it seems as if warm spring breezes were waving the lithe leaves of the palm tree. How soft and sweet a breath steals over the senses and the heart!"
And how difficult it seems to be to write of Chopin except in terms of impassioned prose! Louis Ehlert, a romantic in feeling and a classicist in theory, is the writer of the foregoing. The second Ballade, although dedicated to Robert Schumann, did not excite his warmest praise. "A less artistic work than the first," he wrote, "but equally fantastic and intellectual. Its impassioned episodes seem to have been afterward inserted. I recollect very well that when Chopin played this Ballade for me it finished in F major; it now closes in A minor." Willeby gives its key as F minor. It is really in the keys of F major--A minor. Chopin's psychology was seldom at fault. A major ending would have crushed this extraordinary tone-poem, written, Chopin admits, under the direct inspiration of Adam Mickiewicz's "Le Lac de Willis." Willeby accepts Schumann's dictum of the inferiority of this Ballade to its predecessor. Niecks does not. Niecks is quite justified in asking how "two such wholly dissimilar things can be compared and weighed in this fashion."
In truth they cannot. "The second Ballade possesses beauties in no way inferior to those of the first," he continues. "What can be finer than the simple strains of the opening section! They sound as if they had been drawn from the people's store-house of song. The entrance of the presto surprises, and seems out of keeping with what precedes; but what we hear after the return of tempo primo--the development of those simple strains, or rather the cogitations on them--justifies the presence of the presto. The second appearance of the latter leads to an urging, restless coda in A minor, which closes in the same key and pianissimo with a few bars of the simple, serene, now veiled first strain."
Rubinstein bore great love for this second Ballade. This is what it meant for him: "Is it possible that the interpreter does not feel the necessity of representing to his audience--a field flower caught by a gust of wind, a caressing of the flower by the wind; the resistance of the flower, the stormy struggle of the wind; the entreaty of the flower, which at last lies there broken; and paraphrased--the field flower a rustic maiden, the wind a knight."
I can find "no lack of affinity" between the andantino and presto. The surprise is a dramatic one, withal rudely vigorous. Chopin's robust treatment of the first theme results in a strong piece of craftmanship. The episodical nature of this Ballade is the fruit of the esoteric moods of its composer. It follows a hidden story, and has the quality--as the second Impromptu in F sharp--of great, unpremeditated art. It shocks one by its abrupt but by no means fantastic transitions. The key color is changeful, and the fluctuating themes are well contrasted. It was written at Majorca while the composer was only too noticeably disturbed in body and soul.
Presto con fuoco Chopin marks the second section. Kullak gives 84 to the quarter, and for the opening 66 to the quarter. He also wisely marks crescendos in the bass at the first thematic development. He prefers the E--as does Klindworth--nine bars before the return of the presto. At the eighth bar, after this return, Kullak adheres to the E instead of F at the beginning of the bar, treble clef. Klindworth indicates both. Nor does Kullak follow Mikuli in using a D in the coda. He prefers a D sharp, instead of a natural. I wish the second Ballade were played oftener in public. It is quite neglected for the third in A flat, which, as Ehlert says, has the voice of the people.
This Ballade, the "Undine" of Mickiewicz, published November, 1841, and dedicated to Mlle. P. de Noailles, is too well known to analyze. It is the schoolgirls' delight, who familiarly toy with its demon, seeing only favor and prettiness in its elegant measures. In it "the refined, gifted Pole, who is accustomed to move in the most distinguished circles of the French capital, is pre-eminently to be recognized." Thus Schumann. Forsooth, it is aristocratic, gay, graceful, piquant, and also something more. Even in its playful moments there is delicate irony, a spiritual sporting with graver and more passionate emotions. Those broken octaves which usher in each time the second theme, with its fascinating, infectious, rhythmical lilt, what an ironically joyous fillip they give the imagination!
"A coquettish grace--if we accept by this expression that half unconscious toying with the power that charms and fires, that follows up confession with reluctance--seems the very essence of Chopin's being."
"It becomes a difficult task to transcribe the easy transitions, full of an irresistible charm, with which he portrays Love's game. Who will not recall the memorable passage in the A flat Ballade, where the right hand alone takes up the dotted eighths after the sustained chord of the sixth of A flat? Could a lover's confusion be more deliciously enhanced by silence and hesitation?" Ehlert above evidently sees a ballroom picture of brilliancy, with the regulation tender avowal. The episodes of this Ballade are so attenuated of any grosser elements that none but psychical meanings should be read into them.
The disputed passage is on the fifth page of the Kullak edition, after the trills. A measure is missing in Kullak, who, like Klindworth, gives it in a footnote. To my mind this repetition adds emphasis, although it is a formal blur. And what an irresistible moment it is, this delightful territory, before the darker mood of the C sharp minor part is reached! Niecks becomes enthusiastic over the insinuation and persuasion of this composition: "the composer showing himself in a fundamentally caressing mood." The ease with which the entire work is floated proves that Chopin in mental health was not daunted by larger forms. There is moonlight in this music, and some sunlight, too. The prevailing moods are coquetry and sweet contentment.
Contrapuntal skill is shown in the working out section. Chopin always wears his learning lightly; it does not oppress us. The inverted dominant pedal in the C sharp minor episode reveals, with the massive coda, a great master. Kullak suggests some variants. He uses the transient shake in the third bar, instead of the appoggiatura which Klindworth prefers. Klindworth attacks the trill on the second page with the upper tone--A flat. Kullak and Mertke, in the Steingraber edition, play the passage in this manner: [Musical score excerpt from the original version of the Op. 47. Ballade]
Here is Klindworth:
[Musical score excerpt of the same passage in Klindworth's edition]
Of the fourth and glorious Ballade in F minor dedicated to Baronne C. de Rothschild I could write a volume. It is Chopin in his most reflective, yet lyric mood. Lyrism is the keynote of the work, a passionate lyrism, with a note of self-absorption, suppressed feeling--truly Slavic, this shyness!--and a concentration that is remarkable even for Chopin. The narrative tone is missing after the first page, a rather moody and melancholic pondering usurping its place. It is the mood of a man who examines with morbid, curious insistence the malady that is devouring his soul. This Ballade is the companion of the Fantaisie-Polonaise, but as a Ballade "fully worthy of its sisters," to quote Niecks. It was published December, 1843. The theme in F minor has the elusive charm of a slow, mournful valse, that returns twice, bejewelled, yet never overladen. Here is the very apotheosis of the ornament; the figuration sets off the idea in dazzling relief. There are episodes, transitional passage work, distinguished by novelty and the finest art. At no place is there display for display's sake. The cadenza in A is a pause for breath, rather a sigh, before the rigorously logical imitations which presage the re-entrance of the theme. How wonderfully the introduction comes in for its share of thoughtful treatment. What a harmonist! And consider the D flat scale runs in the left hand; how suave, how satisfying is this page. I select for especial admiration this modulatory passage:
[Musical score excerpt]
And what could be more evocative of dramatic suspense than the sixteen bars before the mad, terrifying coda! How the solemn splendors of the half notes weave an atmosphere of mystic tragedy! This soul-suspension recalls Maeterlinck. Here is the episode:
[Musical score excerpt]
A story of de Lenz that lends itself to quotation is about this piece:
Tausig impressed me deeply in his interpretation of Chopin's Ballade in F minor. It has three requirements: The comprehension of the programme as a whole,--for Chopin writes according to a programme, to the situations in life best known to, and understood by himself; and in an adequate manner; the conquest of the stupendous difficulties in complicated figures, winding harmonies and formidable passages.
Tausig fulfilled these requirements, presenting an embodiment of the signification and the feeling of the work. The Ballade-- andante con moto, six-eighths--begins in the major key of the dominant; the seventh measure comes to a stand before a fermata on C major. The easy handling of these seven measures Tausig interpreted thus: 'The piece has not yet begun;' in his firmer, nobly expressive exposition of the principal theme, free from sentimentality--to which one might easily yield--the grand style found due scope. An essential requirement in an instrumental virtuoso is that he should understand how to breathe, and how to allow his hearers to take breath--giving them opportunity to arrive at a better understanding. By this I mean a well chosen incision--the cesura, and a lingering-- "letting in air," Tausig cleverly called it--which in no way impairs rhythm and time, but rather brings them into stronger relief; a LINGERING which our signs of notation cannot adequately express, because it is made up of atomic time values. Rub the bloom from a peach or from a butterfly--what remains will belong to the kitchen, to natural history! It is not otherwise with Chopin; the bloom consisted in Tausig's
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