The Ballades, Op. 10, are lyrical piano pieces written by Johannes Brahms during his youth. They were dated 1854 and were dedicated to his friend Julius Otto Grimm. Their composition coincided with the beginning of the composer’s lifelong affection for Clara Schumann, the wife of Robert Schumann, who was helping Brahms launch his career. Frédéric Chopin had written the last of his famous ballades only 12 years earlier, but Brahms approached the genre differently from Chopin, choosing to take its origin in narrative poetry more literally.
Brahms’s ballades are arranged in two pairs of two, the members of each pair being in parallel keys. The first ballade was inspired by a Scottish poem “Edward” found in a collection Stimmen der Völker in ihren Liedern compiled by Johann Gottfried Herder. It is also one of the best examples of Brahms’s bardic or Ossianic style; its open fifths, octaves, and simple triadic harmonies are supposed to evoke the sense of a mythological past.
D minor. Andante
D major. Andante
B minor. Intermezzo. Allegro
B major. Andante con moto
The tonal center of each ballade conveys an interconnectedness between the four pieces: the first three each include the key signature of the ballade that follows it somewhere as a tonal center, and the fourth ends in the key signature of D major/B minor despite cadencing in B major.
Brahms returned to the wordless ballade form in writing the third of the Six Pieces for Piano, Op. 118. His Op. 75 vocal duets titled “Ballads and Romances” include a setting of the poem “Edward”—the same that inspired Op. 10, No. 1.
A number of famous pianists have played some or all of the Ballades, including Grigory Sokolov, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Artur Rubinstein, Emil Gilels, Sviatoslav Richter, Glenn Gould, Wilhelm Kempff, Idil Biret, Julius Katchen, Krystian Zimerman and Claudio Arrau.
Brahms – 4 Ballades Op. 10 No. 1 – Andante