From Poem to Performance: Brahms's "Edward" Ballade, Op. 10, No. 1

October 1, 2008

A performer may develop an interpretation of a piece of music using a number of tools, including analyzing the structure, working out physical motions, following intuitions, and listening to other performances. The process of translating printed notes into mental and physical gestures is often difficult to capture in words, but one may begin by exploring answers to the succinct question posed by Janet Schmalfeldt: "What do performers DO, and how do they affect our understanding of the music in real time?"1 Her question addresses two areas: performers' thoughts and actions while learning and playing music, and the effect of a performance on listeners and analysts.

I will concentrate on the first topic by discussing how, as a pianist, my interpretation of Johannes Brahms's Ballade, Op. 10, No. 1, developed from studying the associated "Edward" poem. The motto appearing at the beginning of Brahms's first Ballade reads: "Nach der schottischen Ballade: `Edward' in Herders Stimmen der Völker" (After the Scottish ballad "Edward" in Herder's Voices of the People). Though analysts do not agree on how the poem relates to the piece,2 a number of structural and emotional parallels allow me to build a coherent reading of the music from the poem. In the following analysis I first describe the poem's narrative structure of story and discourse, then explain how this structure informs the musical effects I choose and the technical decisions involved in communicating those effects.

Edward, Edward

The folk ballad "Edward" first appeared in the collection Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, published by Bishop Percy in 1765 when interest in national cultures was growing.3 The poem consists entirely of a dialogue between Edward and his mother, whose relentless questions about his blood-stained sword drive Edward first to confess that he murdered his father, then to curse his mother for the counsels she gave him. Though by itself the story's dismal content can evoke strong feelings of dismay, the poem's greatest emotional impact comes from its literary technique of manipulating time. This device can serve, in the words of narratologist Mieke Bal, "to bring about aesthetic or psychological effects, to show various interpretations of an event, to indicate the subtle difference between expectation and realization, and much else besides."4

In narrative theory, a story and its recitation are distinguished by the terms "story" and "discourse." The discourse is the sequence of sentences and events we read, while the chronological story we extrapolate from the discourse. The distinction is useful for analytical purposes to identify the techniques a discourse might use to create particular responses. In the discourse of "Edward" there are three events:

(1) Edward and his mother converse;
(2) Edward reveals that he has killed his father;
(3) Edward reveals that his mother gave him counsel.

Readers and listeners recognize temporal manipulation at work by cues in verb tense and our own understanding of cause and effect. A dialogue by its very nature implies the present tense, as shown by the mother's first question: "Why does your sword so drip with blood?" (stanza 1). The present perfect tense situates the murder immediately prior to the dialogue: "I have killed my father" (stanza 3), while the simple past indicates an anterior time: "Such counsels you gave to me" (stanza 7). Our logic confirms this ordering, for a murder must occur before a sword can drip with blood, and advice to kill one's father makes sense only before the deed is done. Thus, the chronological story is the reverse of the discourse:

First, Edward's mother gives him counsel.
Second, Edward kills his father.
Third, Edward and his mother converse.

The differences between the story and discourse lead the audience to make certain assumptions about the characters that are challenged or flatly contradicted when earlier events come to light. We then respond with surprise and horror, first when we learn that Edward, who did seem somewhat disturbed, has gone so far as to kill his own father; and again when we realize that the mother, whom we had presumed innocent, actually masterminded the whole affair.

Story and Discourse In Brahms's Ballade

Traditional programmatic readings of the Brahms Ballade, as I will explore below, offer tantalizing possibilities for associating specific stanzas to musical passages, but their shortcomings make them impracticable. 5 The piece begins promisingly with alternating themes that seem to be in dialogue: the austere, questioning first theme is often associated with the mother's voice; and the calmer, reassuring second theme represents Edward's.6 In the middle section, mounting tension appears to express Edward's growing agitation, which leads to a passionate outburst representing his confession. The final section, however, poses an insurmountable difficulty to a program: the music ends by quietly reiterating the first theme, but the poem remains in dialogue form and concludes with a second, even more dramatic, climax. It is these divergent endings that lead James Parakilas to reject a programmatic reading entirely: "[S]ince the sensational revelation at the end of the poem is an inescapable part of the poem's narrative structure, Brahms, in ending his Ballade as he did, was not taking the poem primarily as a narrative, or programmatic, model."7

Instrumental music may not usually suggest story/discourse distinctions to listeners,8 but the importance of this structure to the Edward poem motivates me to explore whether a similar framework applied to the Ballade could contribute to my performer's interpretation. The benefit in articulating a musical "story" separate from its discourse is to observe how differences between them can evoke emotional and aesthetic effects, as they do with the poem. My purpose is to perceive which emotions the music may be able to communicate, then decide how best to express these emotions in a coherent sequence.

The piece divides into three parts according to thematic content and tempo. The first section, Andante/poco più moto (mm. 1-26), alternates between two themes. The first theme in D minor is characterized by open fifths and a reserved quality, while the second in G minor is chordal and warmer. The second section, Allegro ma non troppo (mm. 27-59), develops the second theme in D major, building on a fragment with a triplet accompaniment, and climaxing with a full statement. The final section, Tempo I (mm. 60-71), returns to the first theme in D minor amid interspersed triplets. The second theme never recurs, and a coda concludes the piece quietly. The Edward story can also be divided into three events: the mother's whispered counsels, Edward's impassioned killing, and the mother-son conversation. Keeping in mind other musicians and analysts' programmatic interpretations, I hear each section of the music dramatizing one poetic event. The Andante depicts the dialogue between Edward and his mother, beginning with the mother's questions in the first theme and Edward's false answers in the second theme. The Allegro, with its obsessive focus on the second theme, reveals Edward's encounter with his father. The long crescendo, expanding registers and repeating melodic and rhythmic motives build the tension to the climax of the murder itself. Finally, the Tempo I echoes the mother's soft hints to her son in a subdued, disquieting version of the first theme. A piano sotto voce dynamic properly represents secretive words, and the incomplete triplets missing their initial beats create an uneasy sense of something insinuated rather than plainly declared. Given this "story," the Ballade follows the discourse of the poem as well:

Discourse of Brahms Ballade, Op. 10, No. 1

1. Andante/poco più moto (mm. 1-26).
2. Allegro (mm. 27-59).
3. Tempo I (mm. 60-71).

Discourse of "Edward" ballad

Mother/son dialogue.
The murder.
The mother's counsels.

The piece opens with the story's final event, which is presented by alternating short forms of the two themes (mm. 1-26). I call them short forms because, in accordance with the tri-partite sequence of the "story" of the Ballade, the longer versions of the themes appear first "chronologically" (despite coming later in the discourse), making the Andante themes shortened versions of their primary instantiations. The twelve-bar first theme in the Tempo I "contracts" to eight bars in the Andante, and the second theme "shrinks" from sixteen measures in the Allegro to five measures in the poco più moto. These briefer versions contribute to a dialogue structure, as do their contrasting material and relatively immediate transitions.

As a pianist I can easily think of this opening passage as a conversation with two distinct voices. A greater challenge is to find connecting threads between the themes to make the section sound cohesive. One common factor is the treatment of fifths: the first theme presents open fifths, while the second theme spans fifths through melodic stepwise motion or chords. As I play, I take special note of this interval. I voice the first chord of m. 1 towards the outer voices to establish an A-D fifth as well as the gap of three and one-half octaves between the two notes. I draw attention to the melodic fifth in m. 1 by beginning a new phrase on the A so that A-D will be heard as a unit rather than the end of one phrase and the beginning of another. This phrasing takes a conscious decision on my part, because, if I followed my physical inclination, I would stop on the A and start again on the D (Example 1a). In order to bring out the fifth between A and D, I have to lift my hand just after the G (Example 1b). This gesture enables me to play the fifth in one motion and then move smoothly to the next open fifth in m. 2, using pedal to keep the first phrase from being choked off on an eighth note.

When the A-D fifth repeats in m. 4, it is harmonized differently, but I play it with the same phrasing to establish the primacy of the open fifth over the harmony. This is the case even in m. 5, where a melodic D-G is harmonized by an unexpected Eb major chord (Example 1c). I choose to focus on the melodic structure and allow the harmonic progression to speak for itself. One consequence of this decision is irregular phrasing: sometimes two melodic fifths follow each other (Example 1d), and sometimes two fifths occur in a three-note gesture (Example 1e). Unpredictable groupings lend interest and forward direction to a passage that might otherwise drag under the weight of a slow tempo and a heavy beat.

I set a deliberate pace according to a quarter note pulse and avoid shaping the harmonic rhythm through rubato. The repeated D's in the first phrase are especially effective for this kind of steady pacing because they occur on every beat: I treat the bass like a drumbeat that moves steadily forward regardless of melodic or harmonic shapes. To create this effect I voice the bass towards the octaves, minimize the inner third, and emphasize beats by playing the single upbeat more lightly than the other chords. I imagine that the music is moving forward, not of its own volition, but by an outside force that pulls it relentlessly towards its tragic fate.

Example 1. Brahms Ballade, Op. 10, No. 1, mm. 1-8.

An analysis of the story and discourse adds an emotional layer to the first theme. Whereas the theme at the Tempo I is characterized by uneasiness and ambiguity, the Andante version, lacking the broken triplets and harmonic uncertainty, expresses instead a calm verticality and steady pacing. According to the story, the theme begins with the agitated character of the Tempo I and becomes more sedate in the Andante; the discourse, however, reverses this order and shows the theme moving from a controlled posture to an unsettled one. As a result, the Andante theme appears to be something it is not, and its studied calmness conceals a disquieting nature. In much the same way, the apparently innocuous questions of Edward's mother obscure her complicity in the murder.

Given this quality of the first theme, I play imagining that it is hiding something and only pretending to be whole. This leads me to emphasize the holes in voicing, especially the open fifths. I want to create an effect of unconvincing completeness, so I play the chords as though they were full, all the while purposefully bringing out the hollow intervals. I neither expect nor want the audience to perceive this effect, for I want to communicate the theme's austerity and antiquity but not its dissimulation. As the mother's true character is withheld at the outset of the poem, so I want to conceal the theme's genuine nature. At the same time, I must play the theme in a manner consistent with its latent qualities to maintain a sense of coherence throughout the piece.

The second theme in the Andante sets a contrasting tone with complete triads, close writing and stepwise movement (Example 2). My principal concern is to express the warmth and fullness of the sonorities as the fifths are filled in melodically, a relatively straightforward task because the writing is idiomatic. I play the theme as though it were a completely plausible response to the opening statement. The chorale-like progression softens the processional effect of the first theme, though I continue to maintain a steady pace until m. 12. At this point the sostenuto suggests a lengthening of the note values, but to keep the pacing I try to minimize slowing down. Rather than slowing down gradually, I play the entire phrase a little under tempo so that a steady beat is still evident, and the fermata represents a suspension of the pacing rather than a slowing of the momentum. In the last phrase, I voice the chords towards the line that fills in the diminished fifth G-C#, which begins in the soprano voice and moves to the alto (mm. 12-13, see bracket "a"). Besides encompassing this fifth, my purpose in highlighting this line is to help make the transition back to the first theme by recalling its march-like quality, and the quarter-note rhythm generates a steadier pulse than the dotted quarter-eighth notes of the top voice.

Ex. 2. Brahms Ballade, Op. 10, No. 1, mm. 9-13.

The Ballade story informs the second theme's passionate character in the Allegro, which becomes much more subdued in the Andante. The two versions have a similar melody, harmony and bass line, but dynamics, range and texture are modified: the fortissimo softens to a piano, five octaves shrink to three, and four-voice chords lose their doublings. Additionally, accents and two-note slurs give way to five-beat phrases, and the left hand triplets with their register leaps vanish entirely. In the Andante I focus on smooth voice leading and closed phrases because the emotions here are much more restrained compared to the Allegro's unbridled sentiment.

The poem's content influences my playing, specifically, with an image of Edward desperately lying to his mother. I view the second theme's calm, chorale style as an unconvincing attempt to be plausible. The way it fills the gaps of the first theme with full triads and close writing appears reasonable, but I interpret the assurance of its chords as slightly excessive, as though it were trying too hard to be believable. The poco più moto tempo suggests an immoderate eagerness to close the gaps of the first theme, especially when the fifths completed are not the main ones presented. The ending of the theme with diminished and open fifths reminds me of someone who has made a declarative statement but then looks askance to see if I have believed him. Lastly, the believability of the second theme is negated by the lack of change in the first theme's response. Its almost identical repetition turns the second theme's composure into a pretense. Yet this pretense is different from that of the first theme, for trying to restrain one's passion is not a character flaw in the way that hiding one's invidious traits is. Hence, I do not emphasize the gaps in the second theme the way I do the first; rather, I make the chords sound as rich and full as possible because I perceive the theme to be only momentarily dissembling.

From the first chord of the first theme's return I re-establish the persistent bass beat, playing the left hand with the same volume and tone color as before (Example 3). By keeping all the voicings and colors the same, I act as though the second theme never happened. Even though it is usually not desirable to repeat a phrase exactly, in this context it is the most effective way to communicate a growing sense of despair and inexorable, tragic fate.

Ex. 3. Brahms Ballade, Op. 10, No. 1, mm. 14-21.

The re-entry of the second theme, this time with bass and soprano voices exchanged, evokes the warmth of the chorale style again. However, several factors make it more difficult to accomplish a full tone. The number of voices is inconsistent, fluctuating between five, four and three. Individual lines are less smooth due to large leaps, both within a single voice (Example 4a) and in contrary motion between voices (Example 4b). Even the mostly stepwise cadence is challenging to voice warmly, for fifths and octaves pervade the G minor and implied D minor chords (Example 4c). The missing third of the last chord particularly harshens the progression no matter how sensitively I try to play. Though I am perpetually dissatisfied with my performance here, I believe this dissatisfaction corresponds to the overall effect of the music. According to the "story" this chord is the last "chronological" moment in the piece, and the tale of Edward must end grimly, not heroically. Throughout the Andante section I try to convey a mood consistent with the piece's despairing ending, so I create a bleak landscape of empty space, unconvincing warmth, and barren phrases.

Example 4. Brahms Ballade, Op. 10, No. 1, mm. 22-6.

The beginning of the Allegro indicates a more positive turn of events. A motive from the second theme that first appeared in G minor (mm. 8-9, bass) is transposed to D major (Example 5a). It immediately completes the A-D fifth that had been left unfilled in the Andante first theme. Then a new gap between the hands is introduced, F#-B (Example 5b), and the tenor voice provides a comprehensive melodic solution over the next five measures (Example 5c), striving incrementally upwards and gaining intensity with every chromatic step. The right hand also rises to a new height in m. 34 (Example 5d), its a#" extending past the a"-D boundary established by the piece's opening chord. As the soprano continues ascending, the descending bass expands the range even further.

Ex. 5. Brahms Ballade, Op. 10, No. 1, mm. 27-43.

The Allegro's purposeful direction nonetheless foreshadows the piece's tragic conclusion in two ways. The new triplet-quarter note rhythm generates a strong momentum, but this pace seems overly driven after the Andante's deliberate slowness. The suddenly faster tempo overwhelms the listener with simultaneous changes in mode, rhythm, and tempo, effecting a sense of interruption rather than a continuation of the second theme. Ironically, the very features of the Allegro that create a sense of purpose and confidence undermine these same effects by presenting too much, too quickly.

The second indicator of eventual despair occurs at the apex of the soprano's climb to a''' in m. 40. This climax is not a new destination but simply a reiteration of the piece's opening chord. Although the hands are two octaves further apart, the chord is in the parallel major and the dynamic is fortissimo, the relative slightness of these changes along with the similar chord composition (lacking only the fifth in the bass) create a stronger sense of familiarity than difference. Even the right hand's extension up a half step to bb''' is prefigured by the grace note of m. 1, making this moment of arrival anti-climactic.

Although the positive direction of the Allegro is illusory, I try to communicate as much conviction as possible by picturing Edward, seething with passion, creeping towards his unsuspecting father with blade bared. For the most part I keep a consistent pulse even when the music reaches its climax. To create forward direction, I make a crescendo towards the climax and resist the impulse to increase the tempo with the volume. I try to maintain a pace that sounds deliberate and unhurried even though I am playing allegro. The static design of the triplet-quarter rhythm makes this effect possible especially after m. 35, where the melody line ceases to give horizontal direction to the music.

The momentum culminates in a full and final statement of the second theme, which attempts to maintain the apparent triumph of the Allegro section as it closes the expansive gap between the hands (Example 6). A harmonic progression of N6 - V - I leads to strong, authentic cadences in G minor and C minor (Example 6, mm. 45-6 and mm. 47-8, respectively), while the fortissimo and pesante markings bolster the cadences with added confidence.

Ex. 6. Brahms Ballade, Op. 10, No. 1, mm. 44-59.

I am primarily concerned with maintaining the powerful sound of the first phrase, because various elements begin to strip the music of its bombast. Between the G minor and C minor statements, the decreasing range between the hands makes the latter less emphatic than the former. By the third phrase the texture thins significantly (mm. 49-51): the right-hand part changes from four- to three-note chords, and the left-hand part severely reduces the force of sonority by splitting into two single-line voices. I always feel the increasing struggle to maintain a climactic effect with diminishing resources, as though the ground were eroding beneath my hands. The marked triplets in the bass do not occur frequently enough to convey the same power as the triplets in the opening phrase. Meanwhile, the sempre fortissimo and marcato markings compel me to keep the music strong. Both hands continue downwards in the fourth phrase, resisting further climactic effect (mm. 51-2), and by m. 53 the diminuendo and poco ritenuto finally mark the beginning of the theme's denouement. I immediately feel relieved because I no longer have to fight to produce more sound than the music wants to give, and I can relax into letting the momentum slow as it has been trying to do all along. Small variations in the motive, such as leaping up a fourth rather than stepping down (mm. 52-4), keep the music moving forward.

After the diminuendo in m. 53 the theme rapidly loses its grandeur. The absence of triplets immediately arrests the pace, and the last phrase exhibits none of the energy or confidence with which the Allegro began. Its final gesture is a melodic descent from Bb-E-natural (Example 6a), a diminished fifth that just a few bars earlier had appeared as a perfect Bb-Eb (Example 6b). The diminishing of this melodic fifth eradicates any remaining confidence the theme may have possessed, and it demonstrates that the opening sense of conviction in the Allegro was misplaced and evanescent. In my mind I picture Edward standing over his slain father, coming slowly to the horrible realization that his mother has set him up. The second theme expires in the midst of harmonic irresolution, and the ensuing rest in m. 59 manifests emptiness and dissatisfaction.

Emerging from the silence is the last statement of the first theme (Example 7). Its first chord, unchanged from its previous versions, once more annuls the second theme's declarations. Yet the infiltration of triplets evidences the effect of the second theme on the first. This vestige of the Allegro's heroism, now stripped of its drive, serves to destabilize the first theme. It is yet another indication of despair that the agent of purposeful momentum in the Allegro should serve an opposite intent now.

Ex. 7. Brahms Ballade, Op. 10, No. 1, mm. 60-71.

The inexorable pacing I have tried to maintain moves the music forward despite my inclination to linger on the new effect of unease. The triplets function as an impish shadow to the melody, mimicking its tones with added appoggiaturas. Once again the A-D and E-A fifths are outlined in the right hand, and a sudden leap in the triplet voice expands the latter fifth almost three octaves from A1 to e' (Example 7a). This gaping hole is slightly tempered by the pedal marking, but there is little sense of connection over such a wide space.

When I play I think of the disturbing characteristics of Edward's mother, whose willful manipulation of her son against her husband is chilling to imagine. The music dramatizes her disquieting nature with contrasting patterns of rhythm, articulation and texture between the top and bottom voices. At a physical level, it is especially disturbing for me to play interrupted triplets in the left hand with quarter and eighth notes in the right. Such disjunctive rhythms create an uncomfortable sense of imbalance because there is no bass beat on which to ground the music. The right-hand legato and left-hand staccato add a second layer of difficulty as I try to manage these two articulations. A perfect legato in the right hand is not possible without pedal, for I am unable to leap between octave fifths without breaking the line (e.g., mm. 61-2). Using the pedal, though, diminishes the effect of the rests and staccatos in the left hand. The concessions I must make between these two extremes unsettle me because there is no ideal compromise, and each time I play this passage I have to negotiate the balance anew. Additionally, the texture contributes to my uneasiness. The chordal right hand with its legato articulation contributes to a horizontal, forward momentum, but its octaves, leaps and repeated notes promote more static, vertical motions. In the left hand the single notes moving by step or skip favor horizontal direction, while its rhythm and articulation work against it.

The ambiguity of the harmonies in mm. 65-70 also causes unrest. Half-step movements in the bass complicate the role of certain notes (mm. 65-6). On one level, the bass A in m. 65 is an incomplete neighbor to the G that forms a second-inversion C#-diminished seventh chord. But within the context of the A minor and major chords that precede and follow this harmony (Examples 7b and 7c), A acts as a rearticulated pedal tone. The outer voices of the diminished seventh chord may then be interpreted as neighbors themselves to the A minor/major harmony. In m. 66, movement from A to Bb momentarily appeals to a major-minor seventh harmony rather than a C#-diminished seventh, particularly given the accent on A. My ear quickly reinterprets A as a neighbor to Bb, though, because a diminished harmony follows the quality of the downbeat treble chord and outlines a voice exchange between the soprano and bass lines in mm. 65-6.

In m. 67 the lower voice in the right hand picks up the broken triplets from the bass, continuing the same Bb-A movement and resisting the feeling of rest a tonic chord would provide. The shift from D major to D minor at the end of m. 67 is unprepared and therefore disconcerting.9 The g# in m. 68 unbalances the D minor chord by anticipating the diminished seventh of V in m. 69. The lack of resolution at this point pushes the music towards a clear cadence, though the pacing is slowed by a harmonic rhythm of one chord every four beats.

The last four chords provide the final cadence: IIo4/2 - VII/V - V - I. The triplets keep the music moving forward to the dominant chord in m. 69 where, for the first time in the Tempo I, an entire chord sounds on the beat without the distraction of triplets. This new rhythm arrests the momentum, which has to rely on the quality of the dominant harmony to maintain a sense of forward direction. The bass proceeds deliberately to arpeggiate D minor with a rhythm separate from the tied chord above it. In m. 70 the F-natural asserts not only the minor mode but forms an augmented fifth between the bass and soprano voices (Example 7d). Earlier the C-F interval appeared most notably at the ends of both themes (mm. 21 and 57), and each time the fifth was harmonically supported by a root-position F major chord at points of arrival. The reharmonization of this interval into an atypical added sixth chord, along with its augmentation to C#-F, is yet another example of instability replacing stability. This is the only occurrence in the piece of an augmented fifth between the outer voices, and the despair it effects strikes me viscerally. It is not necessary to play the notes forte to achieve a sense of desolation: on the contrary, I keep the crescendo to a piano or mezzo-piano for a more haunting conclusion. The Tempo I consistently reveals the true nature of the first theme, and the calm stability of its Andante version is shown to be false.

As Mieke Bal observes in the citation at the beginning of this essay, the literary technique of manipulating time influences aesthetics, perception and expectation, among other things. By comparing the Ballade's story with its discourse, I interpret the Allegro and Tempo I to be revealing fundamental qualities of the two themes that were implied or hidden in the Andante. The discourse's order of events creates an aesthetic effect of disclosing latent emotions; over the course of the piece what changes is not so much the music itself as our perception of it. Instead of describing the first theme as a transformation from stability to instability, I see it as having always been unbalanced, with this quality being initially disguised. Likewise, the second theme is always passionate, but this passion is restrained at first. The middle section's relative lack of development through modulation or significantly new motives creates a stronger sense of reviewing existing material than of exploring new ideas. This makes overall effect of the piece different from, say, the sense of departure and return one might feel playing or hearing a sonata. The "Edward" poem parallels this interpretation of the Ballade, for the characters themselves do not change: it is our perception of them that does.

As analysts continue to study how performers understand music, narrative strategies may prove a useful tool. An effective performance takes into account as many details as possible and presents them in a coherent sequence through time. With respect to programmatic music one may justify using more complex narrative structures such as story and discourse, but even pieces without extramusical associations may benefit from comparisons to narrative approaches. Performers regularly tell themselves "stories" about pieces they play, and we can explore how the structure of these stories explains performers' physical gestures and the music's emotional effects.


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Edward (Child 13B)1

"Why dois your brand sae drap wi' bluid,
Edward, Edward,
Why dois your brand sae drap wi' bluid,
And why sae sad gang yee O?"
"O I hae killed my hauke sae guid,
Mither, mither,
O I hae killed my hauke sae guid,
And I had nae mair bot hee O."

"Your haukis bluid was nevir sae red,
Edward, Edward,
Your haukis bluid was nevir sae red,
My dier son I tell thee O."
"O I hae killed my red-roan steid,
Mither, mither,
O I hae killed my red-roan steid,
That earst was sae fair and frie O."

"Your steid was auld, and ye hae gat mair,
Edward, Edward,
Your steid was auld, and ye hae gat mair,
Sum other dule ye drie O."
"O I hae killed my fadir deir,
Mither, mither,
O I hae killed my fadir deir,
Alas, and wae is mee O!"

"And whatten penance wul ye drie, for that,
Edward, Edward,
And whatten penance wul ye drie, for that,
My deir son, now tell me O."
"Ile set my feit in yonder boat,
Mither, mither,
Ile set my feit in yonder boat,
And Ile fare ovir the sea O."

"And what wul ye doe wi your towirs and your ha,
Edward, Edward,
And what wul ye doe wi your towirs and your ha,
That were sae fair to see O?"
"Ile let thame stand tul they doun fa,
Mither, mither,
Ile let thame stand tul they doun fa,
For here nevir mair maun I bee O."

"And what wul ye leive to your bairns and your wife,
Edward, Edward,
And what wul ye leive to your bairns and your wife,
Whan ye gang ovir the sea O?"
"The warldis room, late them beg thrae life,
Mither, mither,
The warldis room, late them beg thrae life,
For thame nevir mair wul I see O."

"And what wul ye leive to your ain mither deir,
Edward, Edward,
And what wul ye leive to your ain mither deir,
My deir son, now tell me O."
"The curse of hell frae me sall ye beir,
Mither, mither,
The curse of hell frae me sall ye beir,
Sic counseils ye gave to me O."

Modern English Transliteration

"Why does your sword so drip with blood,
Edward, Edward,
Why does your sword so drip with blood,
And why so sad go you O?"
"O I have killed my hawk so good,
Mother, mother,
O I have killed my hawk so good,
And I had no more but he O."

"Your hawk's blood was never so red,
Edward, Edward,
Your hawk's blood was never so red,
My dear son I tell thee O."
"O I have killed my red-roan steed,
Mother, mother,
O I have killed my red-roan steed,
That before was so fair and free O."

"Your steed was old, and you have got more,
Edward, Edward,
Your steed was old, and you have got more,
Some other sorrow you bear O."
"O I have killed my father dear,
Mother, mother,
O I have killed my father dear,
Alas, and woe is me O!"

"And what penance will you bear, for that,
Edward, Edward,
And what penance will you bear, for that,
My dear son, now tell me O."
"I'll set my feet in yonder boat,
Mother, mother,
I'll set my feet in yonder boat,
And I'll fare over the sea O."

"And what will you do with your towers and your hall,
Edward, Edward,
And what will you do with your towers and your hall,
That were so fair to see O?"
"I'll let them stand `til they down fall,
Mother, mother,
I'll let them stand `til they down fall,
For here never more must I be O."

"And what will you leave to your children and your wife,
Edward, Edward,
And what will you leave to your children and your wife,
When you go over the sea O?"
"The world is large, let them beg through life,
Mother, mother,
The world is large, let them beg through life,
For them never more will I see O."

"And what will you leave to your own mother dear,
Edward, Edward,
And what will you leave to your own mother dear,
My dear son, now tell me O."
"The curse of hell from me shall you bear,
Mother, mother,
The curse of hell from me shall you bear,
Such counsels you gave to me O."

1Francis Child, ed., "Edward," 169-70. Transliteration mine. "Child 13B" identifies the ballads Francis Child published in his 5-volume compilation. The "Child ballads" are numbered, with variants within each group assigned a letter. "Edward" has three variants, of which Bishop Percy's version is the second.


1Schmalfeldt, "Response," paragraph 5. Recent writings that explore performers' activities often involve collaboration with performers or theorists writing from that perspective themselves. The former approach is exemplified by Leong and McNutt, "Babbitt's Lonely Flute"; Leong and Korevaar, "Performer's Voice"; and Clarke et al., "Harrison's être-temps". The latter approach includes such writers as Fisk, "Schumann's Arabesque"; Rothstein, "Rubato"; and Rink, "Analysis."

2Mies argues that the piece was initially conceived as a song ("Herders Edvard-Ballade," 225-32). Parakilas finds structural associations (Ballads, 139-43), and Parmer takes a hermeneutic approach ("Poetic Motto," 379-87). Frisch and Schauffler attribute minimal significance to the poem ("From Classical to Modern," 376, and The Unknown Brahms, 365, respectively).

3Folk scholars have debated the authenticity of this version of the "Edward" ballad. See Bronson, "Edward, Edward"; and Campbell, "Sir David Dalrymple" for discussion on this issue.

4Bal, Narratology, 82.

5For example, my piano teacher compared the first two sections of the piece to the poem's dialogue and climactic murder scene, but offered no program for the final section. Kalbeck's reading of the piece also fails to explain its ending in terms of the poem (Johannes Brahms, 191).

6Kalbeck, using the German translation of "Edward" from Herder's book, observes that the first line of the poem can even be sung to the opening bars of the melody (Johannes Brahms, 190-1). Parakilas notes that the first stanza can be more or less sung to the first thirteen measures (Ballads, 139), while Parmer describes the entire piece as a dialogue ("Poetic Motto," 382).

7Parakilas, Ballads, 142.

8For discussion on this topic, see Abbate, "What the Sorcerer Said," 228-9; Maus, "Music as Narrative," 21-3; and Nattiez, "Narrativity," 244-5.

9Compare mm. 64-5, where A minor moves through C#-diminished seventh to A major.

21538 Last modified on October 2, 2018