Chopin: Ballade no. 3 in A flat, op. 47

(also) performed by Krystian Zimerman

Tuesday we talked about the second ballade, and as discussed, various people associate the same poem as the inspiration for either one of these works. No. 3 was completed a few years later, in 1841, and not dedicated to Schumann, but this time to one Pauline de Noailles. Wikipedia notes a few things about the work, and I quote the below directly:

  • The form of this Ballade is an arch: ABCBA coda. The first A theme is in two parts; the first part is song-like and the second is dance-like.
  • Out of the four ballades, the third Ballade has the tightest structure.
  • This Ballade also uses development procedures that are successful at heightening the tension.

All of those points were actually strung together in one paragraph in the article, but I feel they’re more easily read this way.

The third ballade opens “sweetly,” in the same kind of placid, pleasant manner as the second, this one a little more ornate. To call it a “typical” Chopinesque melody is not negative in any manner. It’s just that charming and lyrical. What follows it is perhaps my favorite theme of the whole piece, which follows a repeat of the introductory phrase. It’s a charming, dance-like rhythm, understated, but with a solid pulse that manages to keep the lyric forward motion of what came before.

It’s dance-like, sweepingly lyrical, but with a passion and depth that makes this a very meaty, deep seven-minute work. Neither of the ‘middle’ ballades (the second and third) are as expansive or large as 1 and 4, but that’s not to say they’re short on emotion or charm, or less technically demanding.

The central theme of this ballade begins to sound less dance-like, less like that unforgettable night walking out under the stars at a carnival with a first crush, and more like a nocturne, but watch Zimerman; even he sways and bounces a bit as he plays. While there’s charm and contrast, there is not the fiery, sudden outburst that marked the second ballade, but that’s not to say it lacks a powerful climax. Listen for the music swelling, swirling, storming, with distinctly identifiable themes from earlier in the piece.

What showmanship Zimerman breathes into the work; it’s lyrical and romantic, but also festive, in the deepest, most moving of senses. Nothing comedic or trivial about this work. While it might feel perhaps ‘lightweight’ relative to its bigger brothers no’s 1 and 4, it’s a dense, richly moving, compact story. What that story is, however, is really up to you. There’s lots to latch onto here, contrast, melodies, virtuosity, but come down to it, it’s yet another fantastic, glowing contribution to the solo piano repertoire from Chopin.

I don’t mean to blow through these two in one week, with relatively short articles, as if they’re somehow inferior to the other ballades. But I also feel like they’re very straightforward in the sense that it’s passionate, beautiful, colorful vivid music. What is there that I can say to make someone enjoy it more? Sharing my own mental imagery and self-concocted program of the work may only detract from someone seeing it however they will. It speaks for itself. Get all swept up in it and let it dance and swirl and do its thing, then maybe go back for another listen. It’s not even eight minutes long.

As you must be aware, Chopin did not write anything not for or with the piano, which means no string quartets or anything from him this weekend. We did his piano trio last summer, but that would have been a good choice. Instead, we’ll have an interesting little aside of a quartet on Saturday before Sunday begins something new for the coming week.

Also, if you haven’t done so already, go check out the newest episode of the podcast, or all the episodes of the podcast. I have been so pleased with the insights and stories and general passion shared with me from my guests so far. Stay tuned.

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