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Chopin's 4th Ballade is certainly among the greatest masterpieces ever written by a classical composer and perhaps can be considered as one of the best piano compositions ever penned. For me, there is no way to put into words the emotions that this piece instills into the listener (and, this is increased, if one is the player) and it appears to represent the essence of Chopin himself, which is a truly exquisite tone-poem in sound. I can also envision a story being told although this can be subjectively different every time I hear or play the piece.

There are many recordings of this piece that are quite notable which includes legendary performances by -- (in no particular order) -- Hofmann, Cortot, Novaes, Rubinstein, Moravec, Horowitz, Richter, Arrau, Bolet, Zimerman, Pollini, Perahia -- and, the list goes on with the multitude of younger generation pianists -- and, here is a particularly gifted performance:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMSwmDK-sTM

The playing above is unaffected by any mannerisms and the most difficult passages appear to be nearly effortless for her although the music is translated very directly and sincerely. This is one of the best performances I have heard from a current generation pianist!

Extra note:

@Mark_C -- would like your detailed thoughts on this great masterpiece of Chopin.

And, everyone else is welcome to add whatever else they like!
(Favorite performances, extra anecdotes, and, etc.)

Anything related to "Chopin" and/or "4th Ballade".

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All of Chopin's Ballades are absolutely magnificent IMHO.

My favourite performer of these is Zimerman. I like Ashkenazy's Chopin as well, amongst others.

I found the 4th one was kind of "hiding" a bit on first few listens, but it just keeps giving. It's not quite as obvious as the other three, but it is a real journey, almost more fantasy-like.

The other thing about the Ballades is personally I think numbers 2 and 3 should get more attention as well. No 2 with its rude awakenings, and number three with it's sheer elegant beauty and crazy waltz-type passage right at the end.

Fantasy in F minor too. And the Etudes.

Probably a load of other stuff as well. Since getting very familiar with Chopin, I can hear him very plainly in Debussy and Rachmaninov, which stands to reason, and is a heck of a testament. I know people can say "obviously, he came before them" but there's a difference in knowing it intellectually and actually plainly hearing it.

Also, I can hear very plainly a lot of Bach in Chopin, I know that also stands to reason, but it is very apparent after a while. I understand he was a big Bach fan. Probably some Mozart and Beethoven in there too, although funnily enough I'm not as familiar with those guys as I should be. And finally, Schubert gets special mention for giving Chopin the baton.

One could surely talk for a long time about Chopin.

Funnily enough, I can't seem to get so much in to Liszt, although I think when he peaks in certain pieces, really nails it, he can reach Chopin level. I don't know what it is about Liszt, it's very listenable to, certainly, but as a trend, I don't find myself so grabbed by it. There are a handful I'm extremely keen on by him though, having said that.

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Additional note:

Since I ran out of editing time in my original post above wanted to add here that Chopin's 4th Ballade (among a few other pieces) has been a piece very close to my heart being that my ancestry is Polish (due to my father's original name which is Polish and he later westernized / simplified the name) and I consider Chopin to be one of the greatest composers of romantic era piano music.

Another truly fine performance of the 4th Ballade is this one, here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAmy9xaXKdg

Note as to how Bolet takes his time with his playing as I never get the impression he is hurrying through the music (as I hear with many other pianists) and the deliberate approach is most welcome. Everything is stated very clearly and due to Bolet's solid technique the most intricate passages never sound muddy and/or over-pedaled.

Also, wonder as to exactly where he is playing at (?) -- that room is quite ornate!
(No mention is made of the building and/or room that is shown in the video.)

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@Zaphod,

Do agree with you regarding the excellent performance by Zimerman and the ending coda section playing is brilliant and you can literally almost feel the bass in those last FOUR chords of the piece which are played with perfect timing and the dramatic effect of the hands flying off of the keys on the final chord is just epic!

And, here is a legendary performance that has to be heard:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqPN4gXy834

Hofmann's playing was unique to to the older style of performance that no longer exists today with current generation pianists and he takes some very great risks in his playing, both technically and in the interpretation of the score, which is extremely liberal -- and, listen to that final coda section.

Unbelievable!

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I also consider it one of the great masterpieces. I agree with everything that has been said about it in the above posts.

Originally Posted by Zaphod
All of Chopin's Ballades are absolutely magnificent....
I found the 4th one was kind of "hiding" a bit on first few listens, but it just keeps giving.

Same for me. It was the last of the four to grab me. But once it did.....
When I finally worked on it, it was such an experience. It affected me in a way that no piece had before. At one point, when I was playing deeply into the piece for the first time, I had to stop suddenly in the middle because -- this is weird -- I was on the verge of fainting from the sheer beauty of the music.

Toward the end of the piece, there's a 2-measure portion that is for me the most remarkable 2 measures in all of music.
We had a whole thread about it:

"Those two measures"

Quote
.....I can hear very plainly a lot of Bach in Chopin....

This ballade is chock-full of Bach, isn't it!

Originally Posted by mypianos4evr
.....a piece very close to my heart being that my ancestry is Polish (due to my father's original name which is Polish and he later westernized....

Basically all the same for me. Both of my parents were Polish, and my own name was originally the long complicated Polish name!

BTW, I don't consider the Ballades to be particularly "Polish," certainly not nearly as characteristically Polish as many of Chopin's other works.
It doesn't keep them from being Chopin. grin

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@Mark_C,

Thanks for your reply and do appreciate that extra link to "Those two measures" as I can see this is truly a beloved work by many and I am currently working on mastering the piece myself which presents quite a few challenges both technically and also as for interpretation. As I now practice on several flagship model digital pianos (as you can see in my signature and the Dexibell P7 is an excellent sounding digital) and my two Clavinovas have the best actions, overall.

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Regarding those two measures, one of the best descriptions I have read is by a professor of cognitive sciences, Douglas Hofstadter, from his book Metamagical Themas:

“One day, long after I knew the piece intimately from recordings, a friend told me that he had been practicing it and wanted to show me “a bit of tricky polyrhythm” that was particularly interesting. I was actually not that interested in hearing about polyrhythm at the moment, and so I didn’t pay much attention when he sat down at the keyboard. Then he started to play. He played just two measures, but by the time they were over, I felt that someone had reached into the very center of my skull and caused something to explode deep down inside.”

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Originally Posted by deerfield
Regarding those two measures, one of the best descriptions I have read is by a professor of cognitive sciences, Douglas Hofstadter, from his book Metamagical Themas.....

Thank you for that!
I was able to find a couple of online sites that give the full text of the book, and saw that the material that follows what you quoted is a long continuation about that passage and about Chopin in general.

Here's a link to the exact place where the passage cited by Deerfield begins:

(link) "One day, long after I knew the piece intimately from recordings..."

I would have copy/pasted it directly to this page, but that site isn't "copy/paste-able."
I did find a webpage of the text that can be copy/pasted but unfortunately the text is corrupted in the way that such text pages often are.
I'll post it nevertheless, since it may be useful for some people to see it right on here, rather than taking a link to another site, and the gist is clear despite the corruptions.
I'll put it in a separate post. (see next)


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.....Here's that continuation of the text, unfortunately 'corrupted,' as explained in the above post.
The text does appear clearly in the site that is linked in the above post.
I'm posting this 'corrupted' version just in case people want to get an idea of the text without taking a link to another site. Please pardon the appearance. smile

------------------------------

This "bit of tricky polyrhythm" had un, me completely. What
in the world was going on?

Of course, it was much more than just polyrhythm, but that is part As you can see
in our three-color plot of the two measures concerned (Figure 9-8), the left hand forms
large, rumbling waves of sound, like ocean waves on which a ship is sailing. Each wave
consists of six n forming a rising and falling arpeggio (in blue). High above these billows
of



Pattern, Poetry, and Power in the Music of Frederic Chopin



185



sound, a lyrical melody (in red) soars and floats, emerging out of a blur of notes swirling
around it like a halo (in black). This high melody and its halo are actually fused together
in the right hand's eighteen notes per measure. They are written as six groups of three, so
that in each half-measure, nine high notes beat against the six-note ocean wave below-
already a clear problem in three-against-two. But look: on top of those flying triplets,
there are eight-note flags placed on every fourth note! Thus there is a flag on the first
note of the first triplet, on the second note of the second triplet, on the third note of the
third triplet, on the fourth note of the fourth triplet ... Well, that cannot be. In fact, the
fourth triplet has no flag at all; the flag goes to the first note of the fifth, triplet, and the
pattern resumes. Flags waving in wind, high on the masts of a sea-borne sailing ship.

This wonderfully subtle rhythmic construction might just might-have been
invented by anyone, say by a rhythm specialist with no feeling for melody. And yet it was
not. It was invented by a composer with a supreme gift for melody and harmony as well
as for rhythm, and this can be no coincidence. A mere "rhythms hacker" would not have
the sense to know what to do with this particular rhythm any more than with any other
rhythmic structure. There is something about this passage that shows true genius, but
words alone cannot define it. You have to hear it. It is a burning lyricism, having a power
and intensity that defy description.

One must wonder about the soul of a man who at age 32 could write such
possessed music-a man who at the tender age of nineteen could write such perfectly
controlled and poetic outbursts as the etudes of Opus 10. Where could this rare
combination of power, poetry, and pattern, this musical self-confidence and maturity,
have come from?

* * *

In search of an answer, one must look to Chopin's roots, both his family roots and his
roots in his native land, Poland. Chopin was born in a small and peaceful country village
30 miles west of Warsaw called Zelazowa Wola, which means Iron Will. His father,
Nicolas (Mikolaj) Chopin, was French by birth but emigrated to Poland and became an
ardent Polish patriot (so ardent, in fact, that he participated in the celebrated but ill-fated
insurrection led by the national hero Jan Kilinski in 1794 against the Russian occupation
of Warsaw). Chopin's mother, Justyna Krzyzanowska, was a distant relative of the rich
and aristocratic Skarbek family, who lived in Zelazowa Wola. She lived with them as a
family member and took care of various domestic matters. When Mikolaj Chopin came to
be the tutor of the Skarbek children, he and Justyna met and married. In addition to being
a gentle and loving mother, she was as fervent a Polish patriot as her husband, and had a
romantic and dreamy streak. They had four children, of whom Frederic, born in 1810,
was the second. The other three children were girls, one of whom died young, of
tuberculosis-a disease that in the end would



Pattern, Poetry, and Power in the Music of Frederic Chopin



186



claim Frederic as well, at age 39. The four children doted on one another It was a close-
knit family, and all in all, Chopin had a very happy childhood(

The family moved to Warsaw when Frederic was very young, and they he was
exposed to culture of all kinds, since his father was a teacher an knew university people
of all disciplines. Frederic was a fun-loving an spirited boy. The summer he was fourteen
he spent away from home in lilac-filled village called Szafarnia. He wrote home a series
of letters gleefull ,hocking the style of the Warsaw Courier, a gossipy provincial paper of
th times. One item from his "Szafarnia Courier" ran as follows (in full):

The Esteemed Mr. Pichon [an anagram of "Chopin"] was in Golub on the 26th of
the current month. Among other foreign wonders and oddities, he came: across a
foreign Pig, which Pig quite specially attracted the attention of this most
distinguished Voyageur.

Chopin's musical talent, something he shared with his mother, emerge( very early and
was nurtured by two excellent piano teachers, first by a gentle and good-humored old
Czech named Wojciech Zywny, and later by the director of the Warsaw Conservatory,
Jozef Eisner.

Chopin grew up in the capital city of the "Grand Duchy of Warsaw "what little
remained of Poland after it had been decimated, in three successive "partitions" in the late
eighteenth century, by its greed) neighbors: Russia, Prussia, and Austria. The turn of the
century was marked by a mounting nationalistic fervor; in Warsaw and Cracow, the two
main Polish cities, there occurred a series of rebellions against the foreign occupiers, but
to no avail. A number of ardent Polish nationalists went abroad and formed "Polish
Legions" whose purpose was to fight for the liberation of all oppressed peoples and to
eventually return to Poland and reclaim it from the occupying powers. When Napoleon
invaded Russia in 1806, a Polish state was established for a brief shining instant; then all
was lost again. The Polish nation's flame flickered and nearly went out totally, but as the
words to the Polish national anthem proclaim, "Jeszcze Polska nit zginela, poki my
zyjemy." It is a curious sentence, built out of past and present tenses, and literally
translated it runs: "Poland has not yet perished, as long as we live." The first clause
sounds so fatalistic, as if to admit that Poland surely will someday perish, but not quite
yet! Some Poles tell me that the connotations are not that despairing, that a better overall
translation would be, "Poland will not perish, as long as we live." Others, though, tell me
that the construction is subtly ambiguous, that its meaning floats somewhere between
grim fatalism and ardent determination.

* * *

The Poles are a people who have learned to distinguish sharply between two conceptions
of Poland: Poland the abstract social entity, at whose core



Pattern, Poetry, and Power in the Music of Frederic Chopin



187



are the Polish language and culture, and Poland the concrete geographical entity, the land
that Poles live in. Narod polski-the "Polish nation"represents a spirit rather than a piece
of territory, although of course the nation came into existence because of the bonds
between people who lived in a certain region. It is the fragility of this flickering flame,
and the determination to keep it alive, that Chopin's music reflects so purely and
poignantly. There is a certain fusion of bitterness, anger, and sadness called zal that is
uniquely Polish. One hears it, to be sure, in the famous mazurkas and polonaises, pieces
that Chopin composed in the form of national dances. The mazurkas are mostly smaller
pieces based on folk-like tunes with a lilting 3/4 rhythm; the polonaises are grand, heroic,
and martial in spirit. But one hears this burning flame of Poland just as much in many of
Chopin's other pieces-for example, in the slow middle sections of such pieces as the
waltzes in A minor (Op. 34, No. 2) and A-flat major (Op. 64, No. 3), the pathos-filled
Prelude in F-sharp major (Op. 28, No. 13), and particularly in the middle part of the F-
sharp minor Polonaise (Opus 44), where a ray of hope bursts through dark visions like a
gleam in the gloom. One hears zal in the angry, buzzing harmonies of the etude in C-
sharp minor (Op. 10, No. 4) and in the passion of the etude in E major (Op. 10, No. 3). In
fact, Chopin is said to have cried out once, on hearing this piece played in his presence,
"O ma patriel" ("0 my homeland!").

But aside from the fervent patriotism of Chopin's music there is in it that different
and softer kind of Polish nostalgia: tcsknota. It is his yearning for home-for his childhood
home, for his family, for a dream-Poland that at age twenty he had left forever. In 1830,
at the height of the turmoil in Warsaw, Chopin set out for France. He had a premonition
that he would never return. Traveling by way of Vienna, he made slow progress. When
things boiled over in late 1831-when, in September 1831, the Russians finally crushed the
desperate Warsaw insurrection-Chopin was in Stuttgart. On hearing the news, he was
overwhelmed with agitation and grief, partly out of fear for the fate of his family, partly
out of love for his stricken homeland. He wavered about going back to Poland and
fighting for his nation, but the idea eventually receded from his mind.
It was at about this time that he composed the twelfth and final etude of his Opus 10. Of
this etude, Chopin's Polish biographer Maurycy Karasowski wrote:

Grief, anxiety, and despair over the fate of his relatives and his dearly beloved
father filled the measure of his sufferings. Under the influence of this mood he
wrote the C minor etude, called by many the "Revolutionary Etude". Out of the
mad and tempestuous storm of passages for the left hand the melody rises aloft,
now passionate and anon proudly majestic, until thrills of awe stream over the
listener, and the image is evoked of Zeus hurling thunderbolts at the world.



Pattern, Poetry, and Power in the Music of Frederic Chopin



188



This is pretty strong language. Huneker echoes these sentiments, as doe the French
pianist Alfred Cortot, who in his famous Student's Edition of th etudes refers to the piece
as "an exalted outcry of revolt .... wherein the emotions of a whole race of people are
alive and throbbing." I myself hay never found this etude as overwhelming as these
authors do, although it i unquestionably a powerful outburst of emotion. If someone had
told m that one of the etudes had come to be known as the "Revolutionary Etude and had
asked me to guess which one, I would certainly have picked one c the last two of Opus
25, either No. 11 in A minor, the one pictured at th beginning of this article, with its
tumultuous cascades of notes in the right hand against the surging, heroic melody in the
left hand, or else No. 12 i C minor, which sounds to me like a glowing inferno seen at
night from fa away, flaring up unpredictably and awesomely. As for the actual
"Revolutionary Etude", I have always found its ending enigmatic fluctuating as it does
between major and minor, between the keys of F an C, like an indecisive thunderclap.

Still, this piece, like the martial A-flat major Polonaise (Opus 53), ha become a
symbol of the tragic yet heroic Polish fate. Wherever an whenever it is played, it is
special to Poles; their hearts beat faster, and their spirits cannot fail to be deeply moved. I
will never forget how I heard i nightly as the clarion call of Poland, when, from a small
town in German in 1975, I would try to tune in Radio Warsaw. Two measures of shrill
rousing chords above a roaring left hand, like a call to arms, were repeate4 over and over
again as the call signal, preceding a nightly broadcast c Chopin's music. Nor will I ever
forget how that feeble signal of Radio Warsaw faded in and out, symbolizing to me the
flickering flame of Poland's spirit.

* * *

However one chooses to describe it-whether in terms of zal and tesknota or patriotyzm
and polyrhythm, or chromaticism and arpeggios-Chopin' music has had a deep influence
on the composers of succeeding generations. It is perhaps most visible in the piano music
of Alexander Scriabin, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Gabriel Faure, Felix Mendelssohn, Robert
and Clara Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Maurice Ravel, and Claude Debussy, but
Chopin's influence is far more pervasive than even that would suggest. It has become one
of the central pillars of Western music, and a such it has its effect on the music perceived
and created by everyone in the Western world.

In one way, Chopin's music is purely Polish, and that Polishness polsknose-extends even
to foreign-inspired pieces such as his Bolero Tarantella, Barcarolle, and so on. In another
way, though, Chopin's music



Pattern, Poetry, and Power in the Music of Frederic Chopin



189



is universal, so that even his most deeply Polish pieces-the mazurkas and polonaises-
speak to a common set of emotions in everyone. But what are these emotions? How are
they so deeply evoked by mere pattern? What is the secret magic of Chopin? I know of
no more burning question.



Post Scriptum.

This column is a unique one, in that it expresses certain kinds of emotions that are not
expressed as directly in my other published writings. But the part of me represented by it
is no smaller and no less important than the part of me from which my other writings
flow. It was provoked, of course,

by the worsening crisis in Poland in late 1981, just at the time of the takeover by the
military and the tragic collapse of Solidarity. In fact, it was almost exactly 150 years after
the tragic takeover of Warsaw by the Russians that triggered the Revolutionary Etude. I
guess Poland has not yet perishedbut it is certainly going through terrible tribulations,
once again.

I received some heart-warming correspondence in response to this column. One letter,
from Andrzej Krasinski, a Pole living in West Germany, ran this way:



I just read your nice article about Chopin's music in the April issue of Scientific
American in which you have shown so much sympathy and understanding for a
Polish soul, and so much care for the Polish language. I enjoyed it a lot, although I
am no expert in music. However, by my birth, I happen to be an expert in the Polish
language, and I wish to point out a minor error you have made. The name of the
village where Chopin was born, Zelazowa Wola, does not mean "Iron Will",
although you might have picked such a meaning by looking for the two words in a
dictionary separately. The word wola, which means "will" alone, when applied as a
part of a village's name means that the village was founded by somebody's will, and
then the other part of the village's name usually stems from a person's name. There
are numerous examples of such names in Poland, and normally they are attached to
small hamlets. Consequently, Wola as a village's name has a second meaning in
Polish, and that is simply "small village". The word Zelazowa does not seem to
stem from a person's name (although I have no literature here to answer that
question with certainty). It suggests that the founding of the village had something
to do either with iron ore being found somewhere in the neighborhood or with iron
being processed there. So the best translation of Zelazowa Wola would be "Iron
Village" or "Iron-Ore Village". "Iron will" in Polish would be Zelazna Wola, and
the name of Chopin's village does quite certainly not mean that.



I stand corrected !



Pattern, Poetry, and Power in the Music of Frederic Chopin



190



Jakub Tatarkiewicz, a physicist writing from Warsaw, very gently pointed out that
I had somehow managed to invent a new Polish word: polsknosc. I was quite surprised to
learn that I had invented it, since I was sure I had sees it somewhere, but as it tu rns out,
what I had actually seen was polskose (will no n'). Tatarkiewicz complimented me,
however, for my talent in coming up with a good neologism, for, he said, my word has
poignant overtones o such loaded words as tfsknota and Solidarnosc. As he put it: "I can
only doubt if you really meant all those connotations-or is it just Chopin's music that
played in your soul?!" I don't know. I guess I'd chalk it up to serendipity

Great art has a way of evoking continual commentary; it is a bottomless source of
inspiration to others. I have my blind spots in terms o understanding music, that's for
sure; but Chopin hits some kind of bull's-eyl in my soul. If I could meet any one person
from the past, it would be Chopin without any doubt. What saddens me enormously is his
relatively small output. He died at age 39, with his expressive powers clearly as strong a;
ever. What ever would he have produced, had he lived to the age of, say, 65 as Bach did?
Unbelievable firegems, I am sure. Indeed, I cannot imagine who I would be if I knew
those pieces.

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I actually own the book and copied it off of Kindle on my iPad. That section is part of the chapter devoted to Chopin. There are more examples of his thoughts and analysis of polyrhythms in the first section using Chopin etudes.

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Kate Liu is absolutely outrageous! I’ve been listening to this performance for quite a while now. Awe inspiring.

And I agree that this piece is one of the most moving pieces I’ve heard. A gem.

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@Mark_C,

New recordings:

Here is a short excerpt of my playing at the new Dexibell P7 digital piano and for what it's worth I am not a professional pianist (just an advanced amateur player) so it may be quite a while before I could attempt posting a recording of the entire 4th Ballade as I am still working on it as of now:

https://soundcloud.com/user-2445248...atinum-sound-chopin-ballade-no-4-excerpt

Have just posted all four (4) of my new recordings, here:

http://forum.pianoworld.com/ubbthreads.php/topics/2757549/dexibell-digital-pianos.html#Post2757549

My interests are primarily in reviewing and playing on digital pianos.
(The Chopin pieces would sound far better on an acoustic!) grin

And, thanks for all of that great info in the above posts!

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And, here is a very interesting master class on the 4th Ballade:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3G1ao19yEI

Click on "Settings" to choose "Subtitles" and then choose "Italian (auto-generated)" to activate the captioning and then select "Auto-translate" as there will be a drop down list and "English" can be selected. Only problem is that even with English selected it does not do a very good job in translating the original Italian!

However, it gives you the general gist of the what the teacher is saying.

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Thank you so much for your post. My favorite recording of this is by Bella Davidovich.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2Bflw3tMuA

I think this is an extraordinary composition. I studied this piece as part of a master piano class I took four years ago in Vienna. It took me a year to be able to play it all the way through and two years before I thought I was any good at it. It was worth the effort. My instructor thought it may be the most technically challenging pieces ever composed for piano and very few pianists are able to play it.

Thank you so much to the others that have posted on this thread.

Steve


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Can I just say thank you so much for posting this! It’s inspired me to listen to the Chopin ballades which I’d never really gotten to know, and now they’re on repeat. What incredible music!

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Here is another recording of the 4th Ballade by the legendary pianist, Cziffra:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ix0P3us5iuU

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Originally Posted by mypianos4evr
Here is another recording of the 4th Ballade by the legendary pianist, Cziffra:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ix0P3us5iuU


Masterful! Cziffra always touches my musical soul.



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And, a complete recording of all four (4) Ballades -- by pianist Earl Wild:
(The 4th Ballade starts at the 23:05 mark)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVYYnZ5T4tE

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Here is a very interesting tutorial on the 4th Ballade:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yje0neCO2l0

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Currently working on mastering the 4th Ballade as of now and it presents quite a number of challenges both technically and as for interpretation. Also, will soon be getting a new acoustic piano (i.e., Baldwin SF-10) and the plate had been hand signed by Jorge Bolet (in 1984) making it a very nice find:

http://forum.pianoworld.com/ubbthreads.php/topics/2787892/baldwin-sf-10-grand-piano.html#Post2787892

And, here is another excellent recording of the 4th Ballade:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xo0xSn6rBy8

Very nicely done!

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