Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Bellman, Jonathan D. Chopin’s Polish Ballade: Op. 38 as Narrative of National Martyrdom. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

If we look beyond the influence of our accepted musical canon, we can see connections between Chopin’s Ballade No. 2 in F Major, Op. 35, and the literary, cultural, and musical contexts of Poland. It has long been speculated that Chopin’s ballades had some poetic connection, ever since Schumann remarked that “certain poems of Mickiewicz,” a Polish romantic poet, inspired the first two ballades. The second ballade’s seemingly problematic double key center of F major and A minor is a result of the story it tells.

Although we typically focus on the German and French precursors and contemporaries to Chopin when looking for musical influence, growing up in Poland he was familiar with the musical culture there, particularly the amateur program music that evoked Polish national topics and sentiments through musical topics and allusions to patriotic tunes and other songs. It is these pieces that provided the model for Chopin’s ballade structures.

Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23, is somewhat radical for its time. It did not follow the rational symmetry of sonata form and was much longer than a “Song Without Words,” yet had a singing quality and strong forward momentum. The final, climactic section uses a “krakowiak,” a syncopated dance in duple meter from Poland. These qualities exist because the piece is meant to describe the poem Konrad Wallenrod by Mickiewicz. They both begin with a bardic introduction, with Chopin’s opening based on a song introduction by Bellini. The rest of the piece follows the actions and interactions of the main characters in the poem.

Contemporaneous ballades, such as Clara Weick’s emotionally lyrical Ballade in D Minor, Op. 6, No. 4, and Schumann’s heroically-tinged “Balladenmässig” from the Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6, began to create an idea of the storytelling genre of the piano ballade. Chopin was also interested in many operas with ballade numbers, especially Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable, from which he derived some ideas in the second ballade including the major-minor alternations and the siciliano theme at the beginning. Combined with a storm topic derived from Rossini’s Guillaume Tell, Chopin’s ballade depicts the story of national exile and martyrdom.

Works: Chopin: Ballade No. 2 in F Major, Op. 38, Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23 (55-85); Giacomo Meyerbeer: “Raimbaut’s ballade” from Robert le Diable (104-10).

Sources: Daniel Steibelt: La journee d’Ulm (43-44); Wilhelm Würfel: Grande fantaisie lugubre au souvenir des trois héros Prince Joseph Poniatowski, Kościuszko, et Dąbrowski, composé et dediée à la nation polonaise (45-48); Bellini: L’Abbandono; Clara Wieck: Ballade in D Minor, Op. 6, No. 4 (94-95); Robert Schumann: “Balladenmässig” from Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6 (95); François-Adrien Boieldieu: “Ballade of the White Lady” from La Dame Blanche (99-101); Louis Herold: “Camilla’s ballade” from Zampa (101-3); Meyerbeer: “Raimbaut’s ballade” from Robert le Diable (104-10, 147-50); Chopin: Étude in A Minor, Op. 25, No. 11 (152-53); Rossini: Guillaume Tell (154-60).

Index Classifications: 1800s

Contributed by: Meredith Rigby

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