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ClassicsOnline Home » BALADA, L.: Piano Works (Complete) (Amoros)
Leonardo Balada, the Catalan composer who went to New York in 1956 to study composition, has been a powerful creative force for more than three decades. These accessible and stimulating pieces span the composer’s career, from the romantic early Music in Four Movements to the Mini-Miniatures of 2010, which are dedicated to Pablo Amorós. Preludis Obstinants, commissioned and premièred by the great pianist Alicia de Larrocha, was described as ‘a bold five-part piece of thunder…each section suggesting how much the instrument can shape creative imagination.’ (The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Leonardo Balada (b. 1933)
I consider myself an orchestral composer. When I compose for the piano I find the instrument a little old-fashioned in terms of timbre, not up to the expectations of contemporary music. Although I love the piano music of Chopin and Liszt, I find contemporary piano compositions somehow outmoded, unless one combines the keyboard with the direct playing of the strings. This may account for the structure of some of my piano compositions, when I use the piano as a solo instrument, as opposed to using it as an instrument of the orchestra where I combine the striking of the keyboard with the direct plucking or hitting of the strings.
My approach in composing some of the works on this recording responds to the idiosyncrasies expressed above. In these works I am not just looking for the contemporary with the harmony or with a “total” use of the keyboard, but also in the way the ideas are presented, reflecting a kind of surrealist thinking. In Transparency of Chopin’s First Ballade the music of Chopin is transformed from its inner essences outwards, not in the manner of variation or development and in Preludis Obstinants the reiteration of the principal ideas is what gives the music its interest, not in a minimalist conventional way, but as repetition for the sake of repetition with some sort of “internal” fluctuation. Contrastes presents two stylistically unrelated ideas opposing each other. Mini-Miniatures again uses repetition without changes, counting on the brevity of each movement. Persistencies perhaps is the most minimalist of all the compositions in this collection, but its approach of the “total” keyboard corresponds more to an orchestral way of thinking than a pianistic one.
Transparency of Chopin’s First Ballade
Commissioned in memory of Sonia Silverman by a group of friends from Dartmouth College, Transparency of Chopin’s First Ballade was completed in 1977. The intent of the transparency is to give a vision of Chopin’s ballade through the eyes of my own musical style; in short, it is an exercise in blending two quite different musical personalities and styles over a century apart. The composition was given its première by Anthony di Bonaventura at Dartmouth College, in Hanover, N.H. in 1981. The same artist recorded the composition on a CD for New World Records.
The short set of five preludes, Preludis Obstinants, were composed in 1979 for pianist Alicia de Larrocha, to whom they are dedicated. She performed them on several occasions. The title “obstinate” suggests the repetitious character of each prelude, in which a single idea is obsessively repeated, although not necessarily exactly but with slow evolution. In Prelude I the main idea is an extended tremolo that starts quietly with a single note, evolving into a loud tone cluster which returns quietly to a single note. Prelude II is slow and quiet with apparent, although not real, simplicity. Its main idea is surrounded by constant changes of the harmonies, giving it a mesmerizing quality. Prelude III is very short, similar in spirit to a very fast scherzo. It has a mechanistic staccato pattern that recurs with changing numbers of notes. Prelude IV is slow and nostalgic, like a chorale with its emphasis on chordal harmonies that flow beneath simple and seemingly naive melodic motifs. These harmonies, however, range from traditional triads to modern tone clusters, resulting in extreme harmonic contrasts. Prelude V has a Spanish dance-like character with harmonic sonorities that juxtapose the traditional with the contemporary.
Contrastes evolves from two very contrasting ideas. The first one, presented in the first measure, is very lyrical while the second, presented in the second measure, is the opposite and turns into a virtuoso, dramatic development. These two ideas alternate in succession all the time. Throughout the work some chords—tone clusters contrasting with traditional harmonies—are held with the “sostenuto” pedal. This determines the composition’s harmony.
This composition was commissioned for the Piano International Competition Ciudad de Jaén. It was completed in January 2004 and had its première during the competition in 2005.
This is a collection of very short piano works, each lasting between thirty and sixty seconds. Each one of them presents very contrasting ideas, alternating the virtuoso with the lyrical. Because of their simplicity and lack of development, they are a challenge to the performer, who must make sense of them. The work was composed in April 2010 and is dedicated to Spanish pianist Pablo Amorós.
Music in Four Movements
Music in Four Movements is an early composition of mine, written in 1959 when I was a student at The Juilliard School in New York. At a time when young composers were mostly using the twelve tone technique for their works, particularly Juilliard students, I resisted using this technique. Music in Four Movements is a modernist romantic work with traditional touches.
The first movement, Lento, is one of the more simple pieces in my large catalogue and consists of a nostalgic melody with harmonic accompaniment. The second movement, Energico, is very expressive full of tempo changes and experimental harmonies. It plays with triadic based harmonies contrasting with clustered chords. This is the way in which I was searching for a different style. Scherzando presents an irregular rhythm somewhat similar to Bartók’s music. It is like a brief dialogue of questions and answers between the low and the high registers. Tiempos Variados starts like a dance, a sarcastic waltz and ends with a fast short coda full of clustered chords. The composition is a mosaic of contrasting ideas and it was given its première by the Israeli pianist Jonathan Zak in a recital at The Juilliard School. Elisabeth Marshall recorded it on an LP for Serenus Records of New York.
The brief Alairving Variation was composed in 2006 for a surprise party celebrating the fiftieth birthday of composer and administrator Alan Fletcher. It is based on Irving Berlin’s They say It’s Wonderful. Several composers wrote short pieces based on that tune for the occasion.
Persistencies was composed as an obligatory composition for the Three Rivers Piano Competition of 1979, organized by WQED-FM in Pittsburgh. The purpose of the work was to challenge the contestants with a contrasting work, different from the rest of the compositions to be performed in Classical and Romantic categories. The work was to be challenging technically as well as in form, so as to find the way to climb the mountain to its top from a simple cell of a few notes at the beginning from which all the material develops. On the way there are a few relaxing moments of a certain lyrical character.
Persistencies is one of a few compositions in which I explored some sort of minimalism, in which repetition was the most important element in the music. In this group one can also find Sinfonia Concertante for Amplified Guitar and Orchestra (1972), a work commissioned and first performed by the late Spanish guitarist Narciso Yepes, one of the movements of Apuntes (1974) for four guitars and one of the movements of Concerto for Four Guitars and Orchestra (1976). Also belonging to this group is the Steel Symphony (1972), one of the principal works in my catalogue, is not really a minimalist composition, despite its repetitions, since those repetitions and polyrhythms have their origin in the sounds of the steel mills, which inspired the work.
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BALADA, L.: Piano Works (Complete) (Amoros)