RT on Chopin’s G minor Ballade

The whole Ballade is in effect a single magnificently sustained, ten-minute, 264-bar dramatic crescendo that continually gathers momentum from portentous introduction to cabaletta-like coda…. The piece shows him to have been capable of formal planning on a colossal scale few had attempted since Beethoven, however novel or sui generis the relationship of the constituent parts. (III, 369)

2 Comments

  1. Exactly right, on this subject. People who would debate Chopin’s use of sonata form often consider it equivalent to “large-scale form” in general, which means that Chopin’s original-as-they-can-be (meaning that nothing is purely original, of course) Ballade forms and processes don’t rate, or (as the early editions of the Harvard Dictionary had it) amounted to no more than “ABA form frequently found in the nineteenth-century character piece.”

    I’m not comfortable with the descriptor “cabaletta-like” nor the use of the word “coda” in connection with that final section, but I’ve gone on at length about that elsewhere.

  2. “Cabaletta-like” also made my nose twitch a bit. It seems like Taruskin is using it more as a literary device than an analytical pronouncement: it’s mention leads him to notice other operatic influences on the ballade: the “vocal-like” quality of the opening bars, which he calls “evident recitative” (pg. 370) and the “typically operatic stall” (pg. 373) of mm. 98-109, where it goes fortissimo back into A major.

    Then on the other hand he brings vocal ballads (Erlkönig in particular) and sonata form (esp. departures from it) into the discussion. And the “coda” is not really a coda, RT says.

    The result is a complex and tightly-packed reading of the ballade, but one which is less than crystal clear on the level to which operatic influence is really evident. Did he really mean that it was a cabaletta, or was it a “cabaletta”? I don’t know. Then again, perhaps that was part of his intention.

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