Hugh Wood's Ballade Op.57 for Piano was commissioned by BBC Radio 3, and first performed by Joanna MacGregor on 7th June 2012, at the Guildhall, Bath, as part of the Bath International Music Festival.
"The music of Chopin is a revelation which came disgracefully late in my life. To admire is one thing; to try to emulate is quite another: and all that I have borrowed here is a title. Perhaps memories of Joanna MacGregor performing the Fourth Ballade very beautifully long ago played a part in the naming. But to define what a Ballade should or should not be is quite beyond me: after all, Chopin and Brahms both came to quite different conclusions. I just like the old, rather poetic word.
A fanfarish beginning ends in a falling arpeggionic cascade which will recur in varied form at turning points throughout the piece. A major third emerges, to become the accompaniment to the main lyrical melody which becomes more and more decorated until it ends with a second cascade. The tune resumes more urgently against an undulating semiquaver accompaniment. A bigger climax suddenly gives way to a reminiscence of one of the opening figures and then introduces alla recit., a new motif. But immediately the main melody continues – this time getting gradually calmer, quieter and sweeter – until the new motif takes over in a passage of 6 and is more fully worked out.
From very high up, the opening fanfares are heard in the distance, and a faster tempo brings a more vigorous passage, culminating in the biggest and most climactic of the cascades. This might be the end of the piece, but it is not. A sequence of soft, velvety chords rises up, eventually to reveal the original major third. Four phrases of the opening melody are then heard over it in their plainest form." - H.W.