It is beyond question that the genre of piano ballade can be traced back to Frédéric Chopin. Whether a fellow countryman of the composer who had been living in exile since the early 1830s – the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz – had an influence on the emergence of the piano ballade with his Ballads and Romances, published in 1822, has, however, not yet been proven. In any case, Mickiewicz was one of those friends of the composer who advised him “to undertake a great work, and not to fritter away his power on trifles”.
In Paris, Chopin composed four ballads which are modelled on the epic narrative expression of Polish legends and heroic songs. The last of them, op. 52, appears more complex than its three predecessors and combines elements of sonata, variation and rondo. The various musical facettes which exist between the Nocturne op. 62 No. 1 and the Ballade No. 4 by Chopin are revealed by Leif Ove Andsnes, a former pianist in residence with the Berliner Philharmoniker – and as part of an exceptionally exciting programme, includes music by Franz Schubert, without whose example Chopin’s compositional border crossing is hardly conceivable.
Andsnes proposes a connection with the present with his performance of a Schumann tribute from the pen of Jörg Widmann, born in 1973. The programme also includes piano pieces by Jean Sibelius, plus Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Sonata op. 32 No.2 – a work which is said to be inspired by William Shakespeare’s 1611 play The Tempest and which, among other things, can be heard as a three-movement piano ballade avant la lettre.