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Notes on Liszt's ballades and polonaises from Naxos

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 03, 2008 6:59 pm    Post subject: Notes on Liszt's ballades and polonaises from Naxos Reply with quote

His friend Chopin died in 1849, and two years later, in Weimar, Liszt was working with Princess Carolyne on a book on the Polish composer. It was natural that he should turn his attention, at least superficially, to some of the forms that Chopin had made his own. To this may be added the fact that Princess Carolyne was Polish.

Liszt wrote his two Polonaises in 1851. The first, sometimes known as Polonaise melancolique, in C minor and marked Moderato, starts with a short introduction, before the expressive entry of the principal polonaise theme, developed with occasional hand-crossing and leading, through a cadenza, to a major-key secondary theme, itself expanded before the return of a version of the first theme, marked Allegro energico. A passage in the manner of an improvised cadenza brings a return of the second theme and reminiscences of the principal theme in the coda. The second Polonaise, in E major, is marked Allegro pomposo con brio, and has a few introductory bars before the characteristic rhythm of the dance is heard. There is a contrasting trio section in A minor, leading to a declamatory passage and a cadenza, the return of the original key and a more elaborate and delicately ornamented development of the original material, before it returns in its initial vigour.

The Ballade as a musical form was also closely associated with Chopin, whose four Ballades seem to have had a literary source. Liszt's Ballade No. 1 in D flat major was written between 1845 and 1848, before Chopin's death, and has the descriptive subtitle Le chant du croise (The Crusader's Song). It was dedicated to Princess Carolyne's cousin, the sculptor Prince Eugen Wittgenstein. The brief Preludio, hinting at what is to come, modulates to D flat major for the main theme, marked Andantino, con sentimento, perhaps derived from a possibly earlier piano piece in A flat major. There is a modulation to A major for a Tempo di marcia, animato, a march to be played, we are told, elegantly and fast, before a return to an elaborated version of the first theme in the original key.

Ballade No. 2 in B minor was written in 1853 and dedicated to Count Karoly Leiningen, brother-in-law of Prince Eugen Wittgenstein. Marked Allegro moderato, it opens ominously, with a melody slowly emerging over menacing chromatic figuration in a lower register.
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