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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Fryderyk Chopin: Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23

Roman Numeral Analysis: m. 208-first beat of 224

m. 208-211: i, i6, i64, i, iihalfdiminished7, V7, V43

m.212-215: i, i6, i64, i, iihalfdiminished7, V7, V43

m. 216-219: i, N6, V7, i, N6, V7, I

m. 220- first beat of 224: viifulldiminished7/iv, (not expected) N6, viifulldiminished65/iv, (not expected) N6, viifulldiminished7, i, iihalfdiminished65, V7, i

Beginning from m. 208, Fryderyk Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23 begins the coda, marked with Presto con fuoco to last from m. 208 to m. 252, suggesting that Chopin wants from the performer a fiery, agitated, energetic (perhaps an energy with a dark color being in the key of G minor), and fast coda. The Neapolitan chords in m. 216 and m. 218 are held with an accented bass C held three beats along with an agitated, accented melody and embellishing chordal tones in the right hand, creating tension and the fiery quality of the coda. Had Chopin used different chord like a iv, the coda’s overall fiery effect would have diminished, and the iv chords would surprise listeners less than a Neapolitan chord would, thus making the piece less interesting to both the listeners and performers.

Again, Neapolitan chords are used in the third quarter note beat of m. 220 and 221. This time, however, they are arguably even more shocking than the first previous use of the Neapolitan chord, for Chopin deceives the listeners’ expectations in chord resolutions in this passage. Following the viifulldiminished7/iv’s in the first two quarter note beats of m. 220 and 221, the listeners would naturally anticipate a iv chord to follow. Unexpectedly, a N6 is used, keeping the audience in musical suspension by delaying any resolution of some sort until the first quarter note beat of m. 224, only to dive back into the fiery flourish of accented melodies and chordal skipping embellishments of the coda on the third quarter note beat of m. 224.

As Chopin writes presto con fuoco from the beginning of the coda in m. 208, the performer should take note of the marking and adjust his or her playing accordingly. Accents should speak out in its presence, especially the accented melodic notes I the right hand (the accented melody from m. 215-223, for example) However, they should not be harsh accents as one would play in twentieth century composers Prokofiev’s or Bartok’s piano music. Although the coda is always moving at a fast pace, the performer should expose the Neapolitan chords to surprise the listeners not with taking time since this section of the coda generates forward motion to the conclusion of the piece. Rather, simply by respecting the accents and bringing out the melody and bass Chopin has written (observe accents, melody, and harmonic structure of m. 216-221, for example) is effective and conveys Chopin’s intentions well.

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