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Author Topic: Chopin's Ballade no 1 difficulty  (Read 41267 times)
bozzyraven
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« on: July 09, 2011, 09:31:57 PM »

Do i have to be a concert pianist to play Chopin's Ballade no 1? What piece difficulty could it be compared to? The revoloutionary etude perhaps? of maybe Fantasie impromptue. Could you run of the mill piano teacher play it?
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piano sheet music of Ballade 1
omar_roy
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« Reply #1 on: July 09, 2011, 10:06:34 PM »

If you have to ask...
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spencervirt
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« Reply #2 on: July 09, 2011, 10:35:59 PM »

Agreed. If you can't figure it out for yourself, you cant play it.
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lau
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« Reply #3 on: July 10, 2011, 01:04:27 AM »

Agreed. If you can't figure it out for yourself, you cant play it.

eh i dont like when people say that. you can really play anything you want if you really want to, it will just be a lot more difficult and frustrating than it should be if your not ready for it....a lot more difficult.  but if you are  not looking to become a professional and you have a extreme passion about a certain piece id say go for it. :p

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i'm not asian
perfect_pitch
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« Reply #4 on: July 10, 2011, 03:18:09 AM »

If you have to ask...

Agreed. If you can't figure it out for yourself, you cant play it.

Actually... I wouldn't quite say that. After I did my Licentiate of Music in Piano, I wanted to sit the Fellowship of Music exam. My teacher suggested I learn Stravinsky's Trois Mouvements de Petrushka and Brahms Variations on a theme by Paganini, Op 35.

When I watched the video of Alexis Weissenberg playing the Petrushka... My jaw dropped, I clenched up, and I almost froze from watching one of the most horrendously difficult pieces I had ever witnessed.

But lo and behold, 18 months later I was playing them. A good teacher can tell if you're capable of surpassing your expectations.

Bozzy.. what pieces have you learnt in the past - and do you have a recording of them - so we can see if you are at the level of learning it?
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pianisten1989
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« Reply #5 on: July 10, 2011, 07:11:46 AM »

It's far more difficult than fantasie impromptu and the revolutionary etude.

There is some point the what the first 2 said. If you can't hear that it's more difficult that the two pieces you mentioned, it's probably a bit too early. And I've been there, don't try to play a piece that is too much over your head. You will only get frustrated for not being able to play them, and then you'll start dislike them. If you just wait a year or two, I think it's more worth it.
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scottmcc
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« Reply #6 on: July 10, 2011, 12:48:23 PM »

Actually... I wouldn't quite say that. After I did my Licentiate of Music in Piano, I wanted to sit the Fellowship of Music exam. My teacher suggested I learn Stravinsky's Trois Mouvements de Petrushka and Brahms Variations on a theme by Paganini, Op 35.

When I watched the video of Alexis Weissenberg playing the Petrushka... My jaw dropped, I clenched up, and I almost froze from watching one of the most horrendously difficult pieces I had ever witnessed.

But lo and behold, 18 months later I was playing them. A good teacher can tell if you're capable of surpassing your expectations.

Bozzy.. what pieces have you learnt in the past - and do you have a recording of them - so we can see if you are at the level of learning it?

perfect, I think there is a big difference between the intelligent contemplation of a hard piece of music, knowing that it will take 1+ year to learn, and the typical "is prokofiev's toccata hard" thread that we're seeing around here lately. 

there are clearly some pieces that sound easier than they are.  a number of the more mellifluous brahms intermezzos spring to mind: sweet, flowing melodies but when you try to learn it, you suddenly learn that there's about twice as many notes as you thought, and all in awkward places.  and clearly there are pieces that sound tougher than they really are, although I can't think of a great example of one right now.  but most of the repertoire is relatively transparent as to its difficulty, at least in my mind, which is why it confuses me that many people apparently can't tell how hard a piece is.

so anyway, here is my quick guide as to finding out if a piece is difficult to play (suggestions in no particular order):

1.  find the piece in pianostreet's sheet music library.  next to it, you will see an estimated grade.  if it's 8+, then it's hard, or at least it's not easy.  in my opinion, the grades need to cap out much higher (like 15 or so), since just about everything seems to be 8+, but I don't make these grading systems.

2.  listen to the piece carefully, and identify how many voices are present.  more voices in general means harder.  additionally, look at the score and see if any voices are shared between hands, again, harder.  if you can't  pick out the voices in a work, then chances are you should be staying well away from hard music.

3.  look at the score for any of the standard technical issues found in difficult music: double 3rds, double 6ths, fast octave work, tough arpeggios, polyrhythms, etc.  if you play any of the difficult exercise books like liszt technical exercises then these patterns should be easy to spot.

4.  look at the repertoire played at high level competitions, especially those that give free choices of repertoire to the performers.  if you see a piece keep popping up in that list, it's probably hard.

5.  check the tempo of the piece as well as the smallest note value.  playing fast is in general harder, but again be aware that sometimes slow pieces can be more difficult than you think.

6.  look at the name of the composer.  if it's somebody that writes famously difficult music, such as liszt, ravel, medtner, alkan, brahms, rachmaninoff, etc, then chances are it's hard to play.  sure, every composer writes a few easier pieces, but I'm talking broad strokes here.

7.  watch a video or live performance.  if it looks like the performer is struggling at all, especially if they are a professional, then the piece is hard.  the reverse is not true--just because Sviatoslav Richter can make it look easy, does not mean it is.

and now, we can dispose of this type of thread forever.   Grin
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wnlqxod
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« Reply #7 on: July 11, 2011, 06:03:12 AM »

Do i have to be a concert pianist to play Chopin's Ballade no 1? What piece difficulty could it be compared to? The revoloutionary etude perhaps? of maybe Fantasie impromptue. Could you run of the mill piano teacher play it?

First question- Nope, but you will need solid musicianship, ability to be independent with your hands, hand coordination, and patience. I will explain in detail how these things come into play.

Solid musicianship- VERY ROUGHLY SPEAKING, the piece has an intro,  section A, section B, and a coda. The bulk of the piece is about stating the theme and then playing around with them (or, in formal terms, developing them). This piece is about 9 minutes long, so you will have to get creative, which is hard without some musicianship. In particular, you will need some creative long-term phrasing (as I like to call it). For instance, after the intro, you have section A, which opens with the famous C-D-F#Bb-A-G melody and whatever two notes tend to follow them. You need to assemble those recurring C-D-F#-Bb-A-G fragments and make a phrase out of them, and that takes some musicianship. That is only one example, and there are plenty more issues I can think of, such as:
Trying not to sound "frantic" in the presto section
Applying appropriate rubato
Making smooth tempo changes
Trying not to sound too "bangy" in the A Major (well, at least in its tonality) recapitulation of section B

Ability to be independent with your hands: In the second page, I think, you have to play a little lick on the right hand that is in free time while your left hand plays in time. Think of the 11th and 22nd 8th note right hand figures in Chopin's Nocturne Op 9 No. 1, or, better yet, have a listen to Chopin's Prelude Op 28 No. 24. That prelude uses free-time-right-hand-against-steady-left-hand A LOT.

 
Second question- No to the Revolutionary etude (this piece is not that left-hand-runny, maybe except for the end?), and maybe yes to the Fantasie-Impromptu in terms of right-hand technique and independence. No to both pieces in terms of demand on musicianship. If you can listen to something like the Polonaise-Fantasie Op 61 and understand it (i.e. you can hear the method to the seemingly disorganized, erratic, improvisational madness), you should not have too much problem interpreting Ballade 1.

Third question- I think the run of the mill piano teacher in question can, provided that he/she has continued to worked on it. Any serious self-respecting pianist who delved into romantic-era repertoire will have studied this piece at some point in their lives.

I might be wrong, but judging from how you talk, I think you have some work to do before you can handle something like this. Study some shorter, more straightforward pieces first. Study a piece or two that challenges the right hand. Go listen to piano sonatas and/or orchestral symphonies and listen to how the musician handles and organizes such long pieces of music.
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rowdy2898
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« Reply #8 on: July 11, 2011, 06:12:54 AM »

It's difficult, but you should be able to play a satisfactory rendition of it in 1-2 years. It's probably not going to be perfect. As far as relative difficulty, play a couple of Chopin etudes and you'll get the idea. The only obvious difference is length, the long phrases and a maintaining a coherent flow between the movements. Oh yes, the coda is quite the workout, but it's manageable.
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scott13
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« Reply #9 on: July 11, 2011, 07:33:42 AM »

Chopin's first Ballade is actually surprisingly difficult to get the piece sounds right. The numerous sections of passage work connecting the main melodic ideas tend to be fast and difficult to master. On top of this is the musical difficulty of the piece. Good performances of this piece are very very hard to do and this sadly seems to be a piece that is all to frequently performed poorly.

I would say if you need to ask a forum of players who don't know your technical level if you a ready for a piece, then you are not ready to tackle the work. A great stepping stone to the ballades are the Etudes and Polonaises as they both include the same difficulties of the G minor Ballade but are in an easier technical and musical context therefore i would master several of the Etudes and maybe the Op 44 F# minor , or the Op 53 Ab major Polonaises before attempting any of the Ballades.
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noambenhamou
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« Reply #10 on: July 11, 2011, 04:25:13 PM »

First of all, I tend to agree with Lou. Nobody CANT, its just a matter of time, practice, patience, and passion for the particular piece.

If the topic poster is at the level where Alla Turca is too difficult and can't maintain a tempo, then yes, Ballade #1 should wait. But if he/she can play fantasie impromptu, Ballad #1 which is harder still shouldn't be a problem with a fair amount of determination and persistence.

Why not try it? The worse that could happen is that you won't be able to play it right, but you'll still learn and become a better pianist.

Here is my unspoken rule. If I feel I will be able to  play a piece at 1/2 tempo perfectly, then that piece is definatley within reach.

I also think that if it will take you move than 3 months to learn Ballade #1 from start to finish at 1/2 tempo, then you might be wasting your time.

But in the end, if that piece moves you, go for it. You can't ruin anything unless for some reasons you are straining your hands. At the point, get a teacher to help you out so you don't damage something physically.
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bozzyraven
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« Reply #11 on: July 11, 2011, 07:20:38 PM »

The hardest piece that i have learned to date is the third movement of the pathetique sonata....
How many years are ahead of me before im at the right level? Is scales every day for 20 mins before practice my grim outlook?
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lelle
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« Reply #12 on: July 11, 2011, 08:09:16 PM »

Scales are good to practise but they won't help you with many of the technical problems present in the ballade if that is what you are getting at.
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pianisten1989
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« Reply #13 on: July 11, 2011, 08:14:08 PM »

And you can't say "I practise scales 20 minutes! How long time will it take to learn?" There are a bit more things to count on than that. And if the most difficult is the third movement of pathetique, it's a bit over your head.
Play a few Beethoven sonatas, Chopin etudes, maybe a polonaise... Play something that is a bit too difficult, but not a lot. Then, someday, you will recognise the difficulties in the ballade, and then it wont be a major problem to get it to acceptable standard.
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pyang16888
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« Reply #14 on: August 05, 2015, 05:12:37 PM »

Do i have to be a concert pianist to play Chopin's Ballade no 1? What piece difficulty could it be compared to? The revoloutionary etude perhaps? of maybe Fantasie impromptue. Could you run of the mill piano teacher play it?

First question- Nope, but you will need solid musicianship, ability to be independent with your hands, hand coordination, and patience. I will explain in detail how these things come into play.

Solid musicianship- VERY ROUGHLY SPEAKING, the piece has an intro,  section A, section B, and a coda. The bulk of the piece is about stating the theme and then playing around with them (or, in formal terms, developing them). This piece is about 9 minutes long, so you will have to get creative, which is hard without some musicianship. In particular, you will need some creative long-term phrasing (as I like to call it). For instance, after the intro, you have section A, which opens with the famous C-D-F#Bb-A-G melody and whatever two notes tend to follow them. You need to assemble those recurring C-D-F#-Bb-A-G fragments and make a phrase out of them, and that takes some musicianship. That is only one example, and there are plenty more issues I can think of, such as:
Trying not to sound "frantic" in the presto section
Applying appropriate rubato
Making smooth tempo changes
Trying not to sound too "bangy" in the A Major (well, at least in its tonality) recapitulation of section B

Ability to be independent with your hands: In the second page, I think, you have to play a little lick on the right hand that is in free time while your left hand plays in time. Think of the 11th and 22nd 8th note right hand figures in Chopin's Nocturne Op 9 No. 1, or, better yet, have a listen to Chopin's Prelude Op 28 No. 24. That prelude uses free-time-right-hand-against-steady-left-hand A LOT.

 
Second question- No to the Revolutionary etude (this piece is not that left-hand-runny, maybe except for the end?), and maybe yes to the Fantasie-Impromptu in terms of right-hand technique and independence. No to both pieces in terms of demand on musicianship. If you can listen to something like the Polonaise-Fantasie Op 61 and understand it (i.e. you can hear the method to the seemingly disorganized, erratic, improvisational madness), you should not have too much problem interpreting Ballade 1.

Third question- I think the run of the mill piano teacher in question can, provided that he/she has continued to worked on it. Any serious self-respecting pianist who delved into romantic-era repertoire will have studied this piece at some point in their lives.

I might be wrong, but judging from how you talk, I think you have some work to do before you can handle something like this. Study some shorter, more straightforward pieces first. Study a piece or two that challenges the right hand. Go listen to piano sonatas and/or orchestral symphonies and listen to how the musician handles and organizes such long pieces of music.
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symphonicdance
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« Reply #15 on: August 07, 2015, 03:35:07 PM »

Just to give a few examples for OP to benchmark according to the UK (ABRSM / Trinity) piano diploma and graded exam system...

Brahms Ballade No 1 : grade 8

Beethoven Pathetique : full sonata @ associate diploma syllabus, 3rd movement only @ grade 8 syllabus
Chopin Fantasie-Impromptu : associate diploma syllabus
Chopin Nocturne Op 9 No 1 : associate diploma syllabus
Chopin Polonaises Nos 1, 2, 4 : associate diploma syllabus

Beethoven Sonatas "Tempest", "Les Adieux" : licentitate diploma syllabus
Chopin Etudes : licentitate diploma syllabus
Chopin Ballade Nos 1, 2, 4 : licentitate diploma syllabus
Chopin Scherzos Nos 1-4 : licentitate diploma syllabus
Chopin Poloanise Nos 5 & 6 (Heroic) : licentitate diploma syllabus
Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies : licentitate diploma syllabus
Liszt Concert & Transcendental Etudes : licentitate diploma syllabus
Liszt Ballades Nos 1 & 2 : licentitate diploma syllabus

Beethoven Sonatas "Waldstein", "Appassionata", "Hammerklavier", last trilogy : fellowship diploma syllabus
Chopin Sonatas Nos 2, 3 : fellowship diploma syllabus

It is a matter of time and effort for OP to be able to play Chopin Ballade No 1.  Good luck!
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jeffkonkol
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« Reply #16 on: August 09, 2015, 07:16:22 PM »

I do agree that there are pieces that sound harder than they are, and vice versa.

Etude 10-12 and the Fantasie impromptu are actually great examples of pieces that should harder than they actually are.

All of the chopin ballades are examples of the exact opposite.  They are much harder than they sound.

Further, they are well-known pieces and have kind of been given a benchmark status for romantic era pieces.  This means that 'playing' one is generally not enough.  You have to excel at it.

If you love the piece, by all means start working on it.  Just set the expectation that you will more than likely have to discard it for a time and return to it often over the years to truly master it.

If you don't absolutely love the piece, perhaps work on something else from Chopin.  there is no shortage of great Chopin pieces, and you can always start this one a year or two down the road.
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kayleez
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« Reply #17 on: September 18, 2015, 03:08:15 PM »

I am learning this piece right now. Just curious to know what bars and pages are the most difficult in terms of techniques? I am currently on page 6, so far so good, nothing too discouraging....but wondering if there is something really hard after page 6.... Thanks!

To answer your question, I think those pieces you named are not really comparable.. in my opinion, because they require somewhat different types of techniques. If you are trying to figure out if you can play it or not, maybe pick out what seems like the most difficult passages and try it out. Besides the most difficult part, also consider the amount of difficult parts. I would say if <20% is difficult passages for you, go for it. Higher than that, just will take longer, which means it is more likely to give up. But, the more you love a piece, the longer you try. Smiley
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ffchopinist
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« Reply #18 on: September 21, 2015, 10:23:13 PM »

Hi kayleez! I saw from another thread you started that you're a fellow adult "serious hobbyist." Smiley  I'm actually learning this piece right now, too.  For me, the hardest parts technically thus far have been the presto section near the very end (more in terms of finding the right fingerings that aren't awkward for my tiny hands) and to some extent the "waltz-like" section with all big octave chords that falls on page 8 in the edition I'm using, as I can only reach an octave and just barely.  From my own experience thus far, all of other fast parts are really just a matter of getting it into muscle memory, and it tends to happen kind of naturally with practice.  Good luck with the piece, and glad to hear it's going well for you thus far!  

To answer the OP's question -  Though there are areas of technical difficulty, I think the real challenge for most people when it comes to the Ballade is musical expression and nuance.   Anyone can eventually play the notes, but it takes artistry to be able to express it well.  Hope this helps!  



I am learning this piece right now. Just curious to know what bars and pages are the most difficult in terms of techniques? I am currently on page 6, so far so good, nothing too discouraging....but wondering if there is something really hard after page 6.... Thanks!

To answer your question, I think those pieces you named are not really comparable.. in my opinion, because they require somewhat different types of techniques. If you are trying to figure out if you can play it or not, maybe pick out what seems like the most difficult passages and try it out. Besides the most difficult part, also consider the amount of difficult parts. I would say if <20% is difficult passages for you, go for it. Higher than that, just will take longer, which means it is more likely to give up. But, the more you love a piece, the longer you try. Smiley
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aweshana21
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« Reply #19 on: January 22, 2016, 03:04:10 AM »

not the most diffcult but still diffcult compared to ballade no2
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2012gateway
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« Reply #20 on: January 15, 2017, 02:14:10 AM »

Do i have to be a concert pianist to play Chopin's Ballade no 1? What piece difficulty could it be compared to? The revoloutionary etude perhaps? of maybe Fantasie impromptue. Could you run of the mill piano teacher play it?


I have thought it for years after being a piano student many years ago..  but something in me brought to began to learn the Ballade.  So far I am exciting about learning the piece after all these years..  its going to be interesting to learn it..  omg!!
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isyriel
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« Reply #21 on: January 16, 2017, 07:58:34 AM »

short answer: its not too hard if you're willing to put in time to learn it. 

long answer:  difficulty is subjective, some may find it easy, some may find it hard.  Personally i find the coda of the first ballade harder than the coda of the 4th. the rotation leaps kills me. 

the other thing is i think people are over hyping its technical difficulty.  Boiled down its just chromatics, arpeggios and typical runs you would find standard at a high level. Czerny 299 would help with most of it. 

musical difficulty is rather weird i guess.  Ive heard people say its musically shallow (i think schumann said it wasn't good)  But i find it hard to get sounding just right.  My brother studied it for 3 year but hated it so it never sounded too great.  for all you know, maybe it clicks with you and its ez. 

most important point.  if you like it, go for it. simple as that
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