A ballad to incompletion

In the series Great Performances in the Great Gallery of the Toledo Museum of Art Catalan pianist Pablo Amorós performed on Sunday, November 2, 2014, at 3pm, a recital called “Spanish Piano Works: From Albéniz to Balada, An One-Way Piano Journey.” The recital started with the fascinating piece Transparency of Chopin’s First Ballade (1977) by Catalan composer Leonardo Balada (1933).

Chopin invented the genre of the ballade, based on a heroic subject that requires grand gestures. Pianist Pantelis Polychronidis, my “other self,” and I discuss often the technique that Krystian Zimerman brings to these compositions. In playing the Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23 (1831), a foundational piece, Zimerman lifts and opens his left palm, while his right hand is playing. Why is he doing that? Is it a gesture or are we supposed to hear the left hand play as well?

After the introduction, Chopin posits a theme of eight notes, and then repeats it and drives it into a crescendo seeking the release of yearning. In his piece, Balada plays only the theme’s first six notes, introducing them at around 3:23 and repeating them twice, the 2nd time at the very end of the piece. It’s a very serious composition, not playful, with great virtuoso demands. It seems driven by a yearning comparable to that of Chopin’s, only this time a yearning for completion, for the missing two notes. The theme of the Ballade is constantly recalled by Balada but it cannot be fully reconstructed. The urgency is not alleviated. At the end performer and listener are reconciled with the absence of the two notes and learn to live with the incomplete theme that they have.

November 13, 2014

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