Four Ballades (after Chopin)
My Four Ballades are based on the four Ballades of Chopin, each referring to its counterpart in Chopin’s original cycle in different ways. The first Ballade follows the structure of Chopin’s first Ballade closely, referring intermittently to the material of the Chopin without ever – with the exception of the first three notes – quoting it directly. The second Ballade takes a similar approach, although it comes closer to direct quotation in its coda. The third Ballade takes a quite new direction, being at different times both closer to and further away from the original: it contains two brief passages of literal transcription, while also introducing a new theme without an equivalent in Chopin’s third Ballade, causing the structure to veer wildly off course at times. The fourth Ballade is different again, and here the relationship to the Chopin is much more distant and abstract: like Chopin’s final Ballade, it can be understood as a free variation form, in the ballade genre’s characteristic 6/8 metre. Beyond these general considerations, however, my fourth Ballade runs its own course without close reference to its 19th-century counterpart.
The cycle as a whole explores how the presence – implicit or explicit – of well-known pre-existing pieces in the background of a new set of compositions affects our experience of listening to the new music. The Chopin pieces come into and out of focus, both within and between Ballades, and in doing so create – I hope – another layer of structure and another layer of meaning.