Chopin - Ballade No. 4, Op. 52 (Rubinstein)

  • Published on:  11/3/2009
  • Ballade No. 4, Op. 52

    Arthur Rubinstein, piano

    The Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52 is the fourth and final of Polish composer Frédéric Chopin's ballades for solo piano. It was composed in 1842 in Paris and Nohant, and revised in 1843. The work was dedicated to Baronne C. de Rothschild, wife of Nathaniel de Rothschild, who had invited Chopin to play in her Parisian estate, where she introduced him to the aristocracy and nobility. According to Robert Schumann, this ballade was inspired by Adam Mickiewicz's poem The Three Burdys, which tells of three brothers sent away by their father to seek treasures, and the story of their return with three Polish brides. A phrase in the dominant key (marked piano) opens the seven introductory measures and leads into the first subject of sonata-form exposition, a melody with Slavonic coloration. The first theme undergoes four cumulative transformations with decorations, countermelodies, significant counterpoint, and a nocturne-like fioritura. The development of the second theme and its intertwining with the first heightens the complexity of the musical structure and builds tension. Through the intertwining and thus the simultaneous development of the two themes, Chopin effectively combines the use of both the sonata form and the variation form. The body of the piece concludes with a series of accented fortissimo chords, followed by a momentary calm of 5 pianissimo chords. This then suddenly led into a extremely fast, turbulent coda, written in exuberant counterpoint. Closure is obtained with a downward run on the entire keyboard and four heavy accented chords. The fourth ballade is extremely structurally intricate. A major distinguishing feature of the fourth ballade is its contrapuntal nature. Though structurally seamless, the abundant use of counterpoint in the piece is very evident. These contrapuntal qualities are only very rarely found in the Ballades Nos. 1 and 2. The fourth ballade is also musically more subtle and profound than the rest of the Ballades, as most portion of the ballade remains calm and melancholic, seldom has significant outbursts in the middle of the piece. Only in the latter part of the piece revealed its greatest momentum and emotion. Technically, the Ballade No. 4 demands skill in rapid runs, thick chords, and, in the coda, extremely fast chromatic scales of both single and double notes. It is considered by many pianists to be the most difficult, both technically and musically, of the four ballades. Reception by the musical community has been largely positive. According to John Ogdon, [it is] the most exalted, intense and sublimely powerful of all Chopins compositions... It is unbelievable that it lasts only twelve minutes, for it contains the experience of a lifetime.

    Quoted from James Huneker's "Chopin: the Man and his Music"

    Frederic Chopin (1810 - 1849)