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involves the struggle to uphold this new key. Usually, this prompts a false transcendence in which the new major key is upheld only momentarily. In phase three it is revealed that the earlier transcendence was indeed only fleeting. Both of these works feature cataclysmic codas in which the tonic minor re-emerges as the true tonal destiny.124
The problematic condition might not always be present at the onset of the work, nor may it just be related to issues of mode. In the case of Ballade 2, the negative state is emergent: the troubled submediant usurps the more idealized opening tonic state. Additionally, certain musical topics, such as the “Storm and Stress” topic in Ballade 2 can be strongly implicative of some sort of negative state.125 4.1.2 Ballades 1 and 4: Hearing the Connection Ballades 1 and 4 are clearly the most similar of the four works, as they share many of the same qualities. As I will show, these resonances are more subtle and more profound than has previously been understood. The next section will explore the close relationship between Ballades 1 and 4.126 Chapter four will begin with a brief overview of each work’s form and will proceed by considering two additional issues: the dysfunctional TR in each and their implications for embodied plot.
troubled condition, but I hear a strong urge to avoid half-cadences (or other arrivals) in the tonic minor. Interpreted this way, strong arrivals in the dominant can be seen as kinds of tragic things in themselves.
124 At this point, it will be helpful to reiterate Hepokoski/Darcy’s claim that in the sonata tradition, the minor is “generally interpretable as a sign of a troubled condition seeking emancipation” (Hepokoski/Darcy 2006, 306). I consider this to be true for Chopin’s Ballades and other large works as well. As for my assertion that these works are tragic, I am in no way making the claim that all pieces set in the minor mode are necessarily tragic. Indeed Hepokoski/Darcy warn against such oversimplification (see Hepokoski/Darcy 2006, 307). I do, however, insist on keeping with their view that choices of mode are not hermeneutically neutral. What is essentially tragic about Ballades 1, 2, and 4 is their overall dramatic trajectory which involves the triumph of the minor mode. It is in this sense that we might consider the eventual return to the tonic minor as being inherently tragic.
125 Conversely, certain topics can be interpreted as signifiers for idealized states. Such topics include the Barcarolle (Ballades 3 and 4), Siciliano (Ballade 2), and the Berceuse (Ballade 1).
126 There have been several extended studies of these two works. The most significant of those that deal with Ballade 1 are Berger 1994 and 1996. The most significant studies of Ballade 4 are Klein 2004 and Suurpää 2000.
These two works realize the three-phase meta-narrative in much the same way.127 Phase 1 (in both cases rotation 1) involves the establishment of the tonic minor. Even within the P-themes is there an impulse to unshackle the burden of minor mode.128 Here, we encounter long, laborious modules that take great pains not to modulate. After this, we encounter TR material of some variety: either the independent or dissolving kind. These TRs are successful in leading to medial caesuras which are (at least partially) successful in opening up space for S. The secondary key is either submediant-or subdominant-related to the tonic. These keys are affirmed by ERC (PAC in the secondary key). In Ballades 1 and 4, the reemergence of the TR impulse and a drive toward another key overturns ERC. Importantly, in both cases this happens between the rotational boundaries: in a passage of RT. This leads to rotation 2 (phase two).
In Ballades 1 and 4, rotation 2 is a second, deformed sonata exposition. This time the obligation is to uphold the new key (or any key other than the tonic major). This brings along with it a kind of illusory transcendence, in which the tonic minor is momentarily overcome. Usually in this phase, the new key is achieved and is momentarily upheld, only to be overturned once again. Next comes phase 3, in which it becomes agonizingly clear that the hold of the tonic minor is just too strong to be overcome. This part of the story involves a cataclysmic coda that may exhibit material that is related to previous music, but is mostly new. The codas emphasize the tonic minor by repeating many PACs in the tonic. In both works, the effort to overcome the original musical state proves to be unsuccessful.
4.1.4 The Three-Phase Process in Ballade 1 In Ballade 1 (Example 4.2), we can neatly map the phases of the narrative onto the three rotations. I will discuss these rotations as they relate to the unfolding of the three-phase process. 129 127 I define the term meta-narrative as an over-arching paradigmatic plot that can be adapted to multiple musical situations.
128 There is a similar impulse in many minor-key sonata movements.
129 In accordance with Hepokoski/Darcy, introductory modules are labeled as P0.
Phase 1 transpires in rotation 1 (mm. 8-94, Example 4.2) which has the narrative function of establishing a problematic state, the tonic minor and procuring the secondary key. Rotation 1 is a deformed sonata exposition. It features a P-theme, that while rhetorically neutral, harbors a strong impulse to modulate to the mediant. This desire (and its failure) to leave the tonic minor is most acutely manifested in multiple undercut arrivals in (see mm. 33-35). Stubbornly, the music refuses to relinquish its quest toward the mediant. key is also prepared by a multi-modular transition (mm. 36but never actually materializes. The MC is followed by material in another key, the submediant, which is affirmed by a transient, quickly-overturned ERC (m. 82).132 In phase 2 (mm. 95-187), the major goal is to uphold the newly-achieved (and newly-overturned) key of E. Certainly, this happens as Eis the key of no fewer than two theme groups. In phase 3 (mm. 195-263), rotation 3, we encounter the cataclysm in which it is revealed that all of the attempts to overcome the tonic minor have been in vain.
This happens in a coda which obstinately reiterates the tonic minor multiple times.
4.1.5 Rotational Configuration in Ballade 1 In rotation 1 of Ballade 1 (Example 4.3), we see one of the most normative rotations in Chopin’s mature output. P, TR, S, and C are clearly differentiated and an ERC is secured in the secondary key 130 Hepokoski/Darcy discuss the Tri-Modular Block or TMB: “…it is not uncommon to encounter the setup and execution of a second, additional medial caesura before the EEC. This can occur in a variety of contexts, but the invariable impression is that of apparent double medial caesuras, and, concomitantly, the effect of two separate launches of new themes (pre-EEC themes) following those MCs. Depending on the circumstances at hand, the second new theme can seem to be something of a second S. The first new theme, following the first MC, will prove “unable” to move to the EEC and will instead be converted into the preparation for a new MC, possibly including the establishment of a dominant-lock and other features of MC-preparation” (Hepokoski/Darcy 2006, 170-1).
131 Notice the inter-rotational material (RT) in mm. 91-93 and in mm. 190-193.
132 Since not all of the rotations in Chopin’s Ballades can be considered expositional, I prefer the term “Essential Rotational Closure (ERC)” instead of “Essential Expositional Closure (EEC).”
Hepokoski/Darcy model. The first is its non-propulsive P-theme which is longer, more lyrical, and less restless than may be found in a generically typical sonata exposition. We shall see that long, troubled Pthemes are indeed a hallmark in Chopin’s Ballades, but not his sonatas.134 The second deformational aspect of rotation 1 is its MC, which I will discuss later.135
The Sonata Theory model enables us to understand the rotational narrative in purely musical terms. Foremost, the narrative in Ballade 1 (as well as Ballades 2 and 4) is explicitly about failure. There are two major structural processes which fail in rotation 1. These include P’s striving to leave the minor tonic, a state understood as undesirable, and the impulse to achieve closure (that is, a PAC) in the mediant or relative major. The overwhelming strength of the tonic minor and the strong impulse to leave that tonic is built into the P itself (Example 4.4). Notice that in this excerpt from the expanded consequent, that the 133 For the sake of clarity, I retain the Hepokoski/Darcy nomenclature for themes in this chapter. It should still be noted that the themes in these two works are somewhat non-normative according to sonata theory. Generally, the Pthemes in the Ballades tend to be longer and more lyrical than one would expect.
134 Indeed, in the piano sonatas we tend to encounter P-themes that are tonally under-determined.
135 This MC declension shall be treated more extensively later on in this chapter. For now, it shall suffice to say that even though the MC is declined it is done in a way that is consistent with 18 th-century sonata practice.
136 rt= inter-rotational material.
137 I have already discussed this rt passage in chapter 2. For now, however, it will be useful to reiterate that in these measures we find a slippery, non-arduous shift between three harmonies: I (g minor), III (B, and v (d minor).
m. 33. The C# in m. 34 is somewhat bittersweet, but it is only in m. 35, when Eslides down to D do we realize that something is askew, that there will be no modulation after all. In m. 36, we arrive at a TR module (TR1). It further emphasizes the omnipresence of G minor as a key center.
I have already alluded to the second generic process: the impulse to affirm the mediant. There is at least one other important moment in the work which prepares the mediant and that is the proposed MC in rotation 1 (mm. 63-67).138 In other places, Bis emphasized as a dominant-function chord. These are great ironic moments in the work.
The next module (mm. 69-94) unfolds as a generically-normative C-theme, but there is much of interest in the following section. Phase 2, the struggle and pseudo-transcendence, occurs in rotation 2 (Example 4.5). Here, the central struggle is the quest to uphold the new key at any cost. E priority is indeed strong as the key is successfully prepared by caesura rhetoric on two separate occasions. Finally, an apparent ERC is achieved in the key of E(m. 180)This transient (and eventually overthrown) ERC is what I call a pseudo-transcendence because it is not the win-win (the overcoming of the minor mode and the reaching of the mediant) situation we have come to expect due to the work’s generic obligations.
Locally, it does in fact affirm a key (a major key!) other than the tonic minor.
Let us consider the thematic configuration of rotation 2 (see Example 4.5). It is marked by the appearance of what I have called P2 (the P1/S1 complex), so named because it is a newly configured thematic complex comprised of P1 and S1. Now, these two themes have been stripped of their previous rhetorical and tonal attributes. Indeed, they truly appear in new guises in rotation 2. We see that these two modules come into closer contact.
138 One way to hear the F harmony in mm. 63-67 is as a traditional dominant (V/III). Ironically, Chopin employs it as V/V in E
They are no longer separated by TR process and a MC.142 We might also say that the P and S themes have undergone a rhetorical transformation: their textures have been thickened and the oncelyrical S is now forte. Notice that P has shed much of its lyrical qualities and now takes on more of a transitional, energy-gaining role (Example 4.6).
Even though P preserves the same tempo as its first appearance, it now has a new, restless, striving quality. This is due in part to the new dominant pedal in the bass and a change in articulation (note that the slurs are now gone). Clearly, this theme now has the job of standing on the dominant, of leading toward the arrival of S in A major in m. 106-7.143 The thematic recycling in rotation 2 involves a procedure that I have termed “rhetorical transformation.” This is a compositional strategy, prevalent in Chopin’s large works, through which 139 Module (TR) =Module dissolves into TR.
140 The tritone relationship between the two keys in P 2 signifies a great tonal distance between the modules.
141 rt= Re-transition or inter-rotational material.
142 We shall encounter this practice of bringing themes into closer and closer contact in some of Chopin’s larger pieces as well, particularly the Tarantella and the Barcarolle.
143 The tonicization of A in rotation 2 is special because it is a tritone from the goal of rotation 1, which is E. This indicates that a great tonal distance has been traversed in that portion of the music.
P appears in a de-lyricized, tension-generating form (see Example 4.6) and S (see Example 4.7) is presented in its fully-realized, apotheosized form. The S theme achieves textural bliss, but not the P theme. It, on the other hand, undergoes a process of intensification and de-lyricization. Even so, it retains something of its original rhetorical function in each case: it always serves as the rotational initiator.
Example 4.6: P’s Transformation (Phase 1) in Rotation 2 of Ballade 1(continued) The S-theme has also undergone a rhetorical transformation (Example 4.
7). Now this theme reemerges with a fuller texture and is consistent with what Edward T. Cone calls “apotheosis.”144 This elated musical state is short lived, however, as the music dissolves into rt material (leading to MC in mm.