Ballade No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 52
In this masterclass, Professor Stephen Kovacevich is working with student Rodolphe Menguy on the Ballade n°4 in F minor by Frederic Chopin. Professor Kovacevich dives straight in and emphasizes the importance of being almost schizophrenic while playing this ballade. In his opinion, this is one of the most difficult openings in all of music. He proceeds to listen with great attention to his young student while reminding him to pay attention to the left hand, which can come across as too static or too precise.
Professor Kovacevich encourages his student to bring out details while "concentrating" a little less on his classical training. He even asks to play with a less classical rhythmic discipline and insists on the importance of being more flexible and trusting in the richness of the piece.
Avoiding fear and staying relaxed
How to let the piece breathe and how to use your left hand properly
How to use the pedals to achieve the desired effect
Maintaining energy and expression while changing hands
French composer and pianist Frederic Chopin composed his Ballade n°4 in F Minor for solo piano in 1842 and is often considered one of his most famous masterpieces.
Of the famous cycle of four ballads, it is regarded by pianists as the most complex both technically and musically. It is also the longest, taking about twelve minutes to complete, and is often compared to a “whole lifetime” contained in one piece. The exact circumstances of its writing are unclear, although it is safe to assume Chopin wrote the fourth ballad after the third. Chopin dedicated the piece to Baroness Rothschild, who had previously invited him to play at her house and helped him to get acquainted with the local nobility and aristocracy of the French capital. The ballad’s structure is intricate and complex, and the inspiration is obscure. The piece distinguishes itself from Chopin’s other ballads by its contrapuntal nature. Many music analysts and theorists explain that ambivalence is dominant but purposeful. The end of this piece is among the most majestic of Chopin’s oeuvres.
Aim for excellence! You can improve your skills with expert advice. Download the annotated sheet music of this piano masterclass. Please note that this piece has been annotated in accordance to Stephen Kovacevich’s feedback and comments.
He has conducted the Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Stephen Kovacevich is widely recognised as one of the most revered artists of his generation. With an international career spanning more than six decades, he has long been recognised as one of the most searching interpretors – “A musician completely absorbed in his craft, his interpretations are like no one else’s and always eminate directly from the heart: musical messages of wisdom, peace, resignation, and hope” (The Washington Post).
Born in Los Angeles, Kovacevich laid the foundation for his career as a concert pianist at the age of eleven. After moving to England to study with Dame Myra Hess, he made his European debut at Wigmore Hall in 1961. Since then, he has appeared with many of the world’s finest orchestras and conductors, including Hans Graf, Bernard Haitink, Kurt Masur, Yannick Nezet-Seguin, Sir Simon Rattle, and the late Sir Georg Solti.
As concerto soloist, recent and forthcoming highlights include Aurora Orchestra/Nicholas Collon, Los Angeles Philharmonic/Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, Orchestre symphonique de Montréal/David Zinman, Sydney Symphony/Vladimir Ashkenazy, and the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony/Sylvain Cambreling.
In recital, recent and forthcoming highlights include performances in Europe, Asia, and the United States – including the NCPA (Bejing), the Phillips Collection (Washington), the Bridgewater Hall (Manchester), and the Wigmore Hall (London). Kovacevich also performs regularly across the Far East, Australia, and New Zealand, and is a regular guest at prestigious festivals worldwide – including Lugano, Verbier, and the Mariinsky International Piano Festival (the latter by personal invitation of Valery Gergiev).
Over the course of his extensive career, Kovacevich has forged many long-standing artistic partnerships, such as that with the late Sir Colin Davis with whom he made numerous outstanding recordings, including the legendary Bartok Piano Concerto No.2 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Another such long-term affiliation is his professional partnership with Martha Argerich, with whom he regularly performs in duo on the world’s leading concert stages. Recent and forthcoming highlights for the Argerich-Kovacevich Duo include recitals at Het Concertgebouw (Amsterdam), Philharmonie (Paris), Victoria Hall (Geneva), the Walt Disney Concert Hall (Los Angeles), and the Wigmore Hall (London).
Kovacevich is a committed chamber musician, with collaborations over the course of his long career including with such luminaries as the late Lynn Harrell, Jacqueline du Pré, and Joseph Suk. Kovacevich now enjoys regular artistic collaborations with such violinists as Nicola Benedetti, Renaud Capuçon, and Alina Ibragimova; cellists Gautier Capuçon, Steven Isserlis, and Truls Mørk; flautist Emmanuel Pahud; and the Amadeus, Belcea, and Cleveland quartets.
Born in Poland in 1810, Frédéric Chopin was a gifted pianist and a highly-acclaimed composer. He was a child prodigy who from the early age of six-years-old began performing in great halls of the Polish bourgeoisie. It was around this time that the young musician began composing. Between 1810 and 1830, he composed 30 works for solo piano. Chopin’s compositions comprise beautiful melodies, sophisticated harmonies, and an original approach to formal design. If the piano is the romantic instrument par excellence; it is due, in large part, to the contribution of Chopin.
At the opposite of the orchestral pianism of his contemporary Franz Liszt (representative of the most extroverted and passionate, almost exhibitionist, facet of Romanticism), the Polish composer explored an intrinsically poetic style, of a subtle lyricism. The two composers would later become friends and admirers of each other’s works. It is said that Chopin's earliest compositions are, in some way, a product of influence from the "brilliant style" of public pianism associated with composers such as Hummel, Weber, Moscheles, and Kalkbrenner, among others. Later, the pieces that were composed during his Warsaw period—which involved the radical reworking of forms, procedures, and materials—are testimony to the influence of the Viennese Classical composers and Bach. The influence of popular Polish music is also vital in his works.