Composed between 1845 and 1848 (i.e., before Chopin’s death), the Ballade No 1 is a sadly underrated work. The subtitle ‘Le chant du croisé’ (‘croisé’ means ‘crusader’ rather than ‘cross’) suggests an underlying narrative that Liszt declined to elaborate further, but the work is an evocation of the period of the Crusades (which given Liszt’s Catholicism is an apt subject). The initial rising motif alludes strongly to the opening of Chopin’s First Ballade, a debt that must have been conscious on Liszt’s part, while the answering idea is a scherzo-like gesture that seems to confirm the key of D major. The main body of the work, however, is cast as a set of character variations on the crusader’s ‘song’ in D flat major, with a joyfully heroic march as a middle section, replete with ‘rapido con bravura’ scales and other virtuoso intricacies.
from notes by Tim Parry © 2000