The Ballade converted me to being a true Liszt lover. I played it my senior year. Up until then, I had played Un Sospiro freshman year and heard a lot of flashy-trashy Hungarian Rhapsodies. Don’t get me wrong – Un Sospiro was fun to play, and it was pretty. But pretty only gets you so far in life. What’s the big deal? Why the fuss?
Then for my recital I got to play the ballade. I read through it a few times, listened to Horowitz (yes, Horowitz) play it. It was like an epiphany. I got it. I got it! It’s Liszt. It’s over the top, it’s sublime, it’s beautiful, it’s tense, it’s got some of the best build-ups and climaxes ever, it’s everything. It’s like a classic movie. It’s got everything, and all of it is in proportion and extremely well done. Not to mention, it feels so good to play! My hands could have done that all day. My ears wanted to. Toying with timing, with colors, with voices, with attacks and releases… I was a convert.
So as I was learning this, my teacher mentioned the Ballade was like the ‘kid sister’ piece to the Sonata. Well! I certainly had to revisit that. And I did, and she was right. The sonata was everything and more. I heard everything in the ballade, larger and deeper. And every time I hear it, it’s like re-reading a favorite novel. (In my case, an epic novel.) It’s comforting in knowing the story, but you still get excited, and you still bite your nails, you still rejoice, you still breathe a sigh of relief, and you still cry, even though you’ve read it enough to have it memorized. And you notice something different every single time, or maybe something you forgot. Or maybe a new possibility – what if this had happened instead of this? What if he went there? It’s the kind of piece that can’t get old.