About this work
The dedicatee of Chopin's second Ballade, Robert Schumann, was hardly impressed; he found the piece "less artistic" than its predecessor, with the more intense episodes seeming a mere afterthought. This is a curious pronouncement, since those episodes, though brief, are essential to the ballade's structure and emotional impact. Chopin's literary inspiration may have been Adam Mickiewicz's poem "Switez," in which maidens escaping a besieged city drown themselves and are transformed into deadly flowers at the water's edge; this legendary Lake of the Wilis also inspired Mickiewicz's ballet Giselle. Chopin's composition begins as a simple idyll, the opening, gently rocking scene-setting phrases of a balladeer. At length a violent episode arises, full of impulsive but sonorous chords in the bass, with the right hand rushing up and down the keyboard. This soon subsides and the opening theme returns, only to hesitate and then mount in tension (as if the balladeer were becoming caught up in his story). Violence again erupts and the music reaches the height of its passion, the opening theme struggling to maintain a presence amid the onslaught. All this collapses, after which comes a brief, quiet conclusion, the opening theme bathed in melancholy and pessimism.
Curated by Chanda VanderHart, Pianist and Musicologist