Ballade (of abandonment and fortune) takes its sources from two songs: a lullaby, sung by an unidentified female vocalist, recorded by the ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax in southern Italy during the ‘50s, and a ballade, Ecco la primavera, composed in XIV Century by the Florentine composer Francesco Landini. While the Landini’s ballade exhorts to enjoy the spring, the «time to fall in love / and put on a merry face», the lullaby, sung by a mother to her child, is about the death of infants and innocents: «[…] the wolf has eaten the little lamb. / Oh my little lamb, what did you do […] when you saw death, without your mother?» Despite being very different, their meanings are related to each other. These are songs about love, seen from two opposite points: plentiful, springlike and flourishing in Landino, that evokes the fear of loss and despair, as it happens in the folk song. While the folk tune is quoted, although transfigured, in the middle of the piece, references to Landino’s ballade are sparsely placed throughout the music.
Both have in common their rhythmical articulation, based on iambic feet. As it happens in Ballata forms, the piece has a cyclical structure, with a recurring section that is repeated and varied at the beginning of each of the three sections, suggesting different developments of the same musical idea. The iambic rhythm that flows irregularly through the piece is commonly associated with the narration, the conversation, the litanies of women in churches, the gradual revelation of a secret. In fact, the piece takes its roots, more than on pre-existing material, from the emotions, joys, fears and losses I have experienced in my recent years.
?? Francesco Antonioni??
Commissioned for Birmingham Contemporary Music Group through BCMG’s Sound Investment scheme, by Deborah, Matilda, Nick, Bethan, Alistair and Michelle in celebration of Charles West’s 60th birthday on 7 February 2009.
Ballata was premiered by BCMG on 25 January 2009, conducted by George Benjamin.