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Episode 31: Chopin's Odyssey of Soul

Ballade No. 1 in G minor

rc-odyssey-200Pick a piece. Any piece. Chopin’s music generally stirs the soul. But none quite like the Ballade in G minor…

In 1900, American music writer and critic James Huneker published an analysis and commentary on Chopin’s complete works. It’s a valuable volume for any Chopin fan, filled with keen insights and incisive commentary. Huneker’s language is vigorous and direct, though often dabbed at the pulse-points with the perfumed prose of the era. But when it comes to Chopin’s Ballade in G minor, the author gets downright fevered:

“The Polonaise, Mazurka and Valse were already there for him to handle, but the Ballade was not. Here he is not imitator, but creator.”

Huneker is just getting warmed up…

“It is the Odyssey of Chopin's soul. That 'cello-like largo with its noiseless suspension stays us for a moment in the courtyard of Chopin's House Beautiful. Then, told in his most dreamy tones, the legend begins.”

Now the author is in full rhapsody:

“…this Ballade discloses surprising and delicious things. There is the tall lily in the fountain that nods to the sun. It drips in cadenced monotone and its song is repeated on the lips of the slender-hipped girl with the eyes of midnight…”

This reverie is altered by a new tempo Huneker calls,”…a perpendicular roar… For two pages the dynamic energy displayed by the composer is almost appalling….It is a storm of the emotions, muscular in its virility.”

Huneker concludes that this Ballade is “glowing with genius.” And he’s got company: It is prized by pianists, adored by audiences…and cherished by its composer. After Robert Schumann told him he liked it best of all his compositions, Chopin wrote back to say, “I am happy to hear this since I, too, like it most and hold it dearest." - Jennifer Foster

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Radio Chopin Episode 31: Chopin's Odyssey of Soul

Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23

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