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The word ballad comes from the Occitan language of the southern French medieval trobadord poetry . It originally referred to a genre of the dance song . In German-language literature, a multi-stanza, narrative poem has been called a ballad since the 18th century.

A ballad in piano music is a formally undefined genre of the 19th century.


Cerverí de Girona, Balada - Si voletz que • m laix d'amar (PC 434a, 65), Cançoner Gil (Biblioteca de Catalunya, MS 146), f. 34v, 14th century

From Occitan balar ("dance, round dance", from Latin ballare "dance", Greek ballein "throw, move, move"), balada (since around 1200) was created as a word for "dance" and a generic name for a dance song , next to which the closely related genus dansa also exists.

Four Occitan songs have been preserved, which are identified in the lyrics as balada or with the diminutive form baladeta , and two others in which the word appears in the manuscripts as the title of the individual song, which in two songs in the first group is also mentioned in addition to the textual mention of the word is the case. All in all, the pieces are as follows (counting according to Pillet-Carstens, stanza scheme in each case without refrain):

  • Mort m'an li semblan (PC 461,166)
    • Refrain: 10A 10A
    • Verses: I-III 10a 10a 10a 10a
    • Tornada: IV 10a 10a
    • Grouping of the stanzas: coblas unisonnantz
  • D'amor m'estera ben e gent (PC 461.73)
    • Refrain: 8A 8A
    • Stanzas: I-VI 8b 8b 8a
    • Tornada: St. VI
    • Grouping: coblas unisonnantz
  • Coindeta sui (PC 461.69)
    • Refrain: 10A '10A'
    • Verses: I – II 10b '10b' 10b '10a', III – V 10d '10d' 10d '10a'
    • Tornada: St. V
    • Grouping: coblas doblas (I – II, III – IV; coblas ternas III – V)
  • Si voletz que • m laix d'amar (PC 434a, 65, Cerverí de Girona )
    • Refrain: 7A 7B '7A 7B'
    • Stanzas: I / III 7a 7b '7a 7b' 7a 7b ', II 7b' 7a 7b '7a 7b' 7a
    • Tornada: IV 7b '7a 7b' 7a, V 7a 7b '7a 7b'
    • Grouping: coblas retrogradadas
  • Quant lo gilos (PC 461,201)
    • Refrain: 7A '3B 5B
    • Verses: I 6c '6c' 6c '3b 5b, II 6d' 6d '6d' 3b 5b, III 6e '6e' 6e '3b 5b
    • Tornada: none (but see Str. I)
    • Grouping: coblas singulars
  • Lo fi cor qu'ie • us ai (PC 244.4, Guiraut d'Espanha )
    • Verstyp: 5 + 5 broken decals with irregular rhyming verses
    • Refrain: A 'A'
    • Verse: I 10b '10b' 10b '10a', II: 10b '10b' 10b '10a' ?, III: 10c '10c' 10c '10a'
    • Tornada (only formal): IV 10d '10d' 10a ', V 10c' 10a '
    • Grouping: -

The balada is not a fixed metric form, but varies within certain limits in the songs received. It appears as a multi-stanza song, with three to six stanzas. The stanzas are built metrically the same (isostrophy), with the exception of Si voletz , where each stanza reverses the scheme of the previous one (coblas retrogradadas). The stanzas are isometric (without changing the length of the verse within the stanza), with the exception of Quant lo gilos , where the rhyming partners of the refrain are short verses. The length of the stanzas without counting the refrain is three to six verses, the ten-syllable (three songs) dominates as the verse, alongside the six- , seven- or eight-syllable (only once each). In the stanzas grouping according to the rhyme filling, two cases are coblas unisonnantz (all stanzas sound the same), in one each of coblas doblas (two stanzas sound the same) or coblas singulars (each stanza with new rhyming sounds), while in the case of Si voletz the coblas retrogradads only tend to be interpreted as alternating coblas doblas and in Lo fi cor there is no regular grouping at all.

The most important form feature of the balada is a multi-line refrain (respos, refranh). This is usually two lines, but in two cases also three or four lines. Its exact use cannot be determined with certainty due to the notation of recurring refrain verses, which is usually only abbreviated in the manuscripts, and has therefore been interpreted differently in research. The refrain is always at the beginning and usually (doubtful: Si voletz ) again at the end of the stanza and is also repeated within the stanza: if the stanza has three verses without the refrain, the chorus is repeated after the first verse; if it has more than three verses, it is repeated after the first and after the second verse. It is not entirely certain whether the complete refrain (Karl Bartsch) or only the first refrain verse (Alfred Jeanroy) should be repeated within the stanza. The latter is mostly accepted today, so that in a three-verse stanza the scheme[AAbAbbAA], for a four-verse the scheme [AAbAbAbbAA] results, example stanza:

  Coindeta sui, si cum n'ai greu cossire I am pretty, and yet I am very grieved
  Per mon marit, qar ne • l voil ne • l desire. because of my husband, because I don't want him and I don't want him.
Q'eu be • us dirai per qe son aisi drusa: And I want to tell you why I am so longing:
  Coindeta sui, si cum n'ai greu cossire, I am pretty, and yet I have great sorrow
Quar pauca son, iuvenete e tosa, Because i'm little, a young thing and girl.
  Coindeta sui, si cum n'ai greu cossire, I am pretty, and yet I have great sorrow
E degr'aver marit dunt fos ioiosa, and really deserves a husband to please me
Ab cui totz temps poguez iogar e rire, And with whom I can joke and laugh at all times.
  Coindeta sui, si cum n'ai greu cossire I am pretty, and yet I am very grieved
  Per mon marit, qar ne • l voil ne • l desire. because of my husband, because I don't want him and I don't want him.

An exception to this rule is again offered by Si voletz , where the principle of coblas retrogradadas also subordinates the refrain by reversing its rhyme gender, in that there is not regularly the first refrain verse, but the first in the first stanza and then the second, in the second Verse is repeated first the fourth and then the third chorus verse, while the third verse again follows the principle of the first:

1 7A 2 7B ' 3 7A 4 7B' 7a 1 7A 7b ' 2 7B' 7a 7b '7a 7b' 1 7A 2 7B ' 3 7A 4 7B' (I / III)
1 7A 2 7B ' 3 7A 4 7B' 7b ' 4 7B' 7a 3 7A 7b '7a 7b' 7a 1 7A 2 7B ' 3 7A 4 7B' (II)

In two cases, the songs are followed by one or two short stanzas as an accompanying stanza (tornada) , in the others, with the exception of Quant lo gilos , one or two normal stanzas at the end fulfill the function of an accompanying stanza by relating thematically to the song themselves, while in Quant lo gilos the first of three stanzas, according to tradition, begins with an address to the song. In terms of content and style, the spectrum ranges from the (predominantly) folk to at least the tendency towards courtly, as indicated by the use of the accompanying verses that are more characteristic of the courtly repertoire.


In the northern French poetry of the Trouvères , bal (l) ade has appeared since the 12th century (since approx. 1127), initially as a name for dance songs whose form belongs to other genres such as the Virelai . It was not until the early 14th century that a specific new form of ballad emerged, with the replacement of the original dance song character, but initially still maintaining the musical type of song set to music, which then also replaced the canzone as the main genre of love poetry, but not on the theme of the Love remains fixed in terms of content, but can cover a wide range of topics.

This late medieval ballad consists of several, usually three or less often four identical stanzas that also have the same rhyme sounds (rhymed through), which are initially built heterometrically (with verses with unequal numbers of syllables) and then regularly isometrically (with verses with the same number of syllables). Since the 15th century, these have been either eight or ten syllables, and the number of verses (including the chorus) per stanza corresponds to the number of syllables per verse. The chorus is also mandatory for the northern French ballad, but the one is only a single line and is only repeated in the final verse of the stanza and not at the beginning of the stanza or inside the stanza. The common rhyming scheme for the eight line stanza is[ababbcbC] and for the ten-line stanza [ababbccdcD].

The ballad is usually concluded, almost regularly since the end of the 14th century, by an escort stanza (envoy). This is a short stanza that repeats the rhyme scheme of the second half of the stanza including the refrain (i.e.[bcbC] or. [ccdcD]), and which begins with the salutation "Prince", addressed to the chairman of the puy (from Latin podium , " singer guild ") or a high-ranking recipient of the song, or alternatively as an address to the beloved ("lady") or ( so with François Villon ) to the Virgin Mary. The connection to the musical composition was lost in the course of the 15th century, but the ballads of this time were also intended for spoken performance and not for silent reading.


In German literature from the late 18th century onwards, “ballad” is understood to be a multi- stanza narrative poem (with verses , stanzas, rhymes and meter), which often takes up medieval, fairytale-like, ancient or contemporary material and whose plot ends with a punchline . There is no topic that is specifically “balladic”. Ballads can treat the depicted subject seriously, humorously or ironically. The work History of the German Ballad by Wolfgang Kayser , which was first published in 1936, has long been formative for the generic term . Its ideologically tinged definition is being questioned today. From a literary perspective, the ballad combines characteristics of the genres drama , epic and poetry . A distinction is made between art ballads and folk ballads .

Well-known ballads include Goethe's Sorcerer 's Apprentice , Erlkönig and The Dance of Death , Schiller's Guarantee and The Glove ; also Clemens Brentano ( Lore Lay ), Ludwig Uhland ( Des Sängers Fluch , Swabian customer ), Annette von Droste-Hülshoff ( Der Knabe im Moor , Der Schlosself ), Conrad Ferdinand Meyer ( Feet in Fire ), Theodor Fontane ( Die Brück ' am Tay , John Maynard ), Johann Gabriel Seidl ( Die Uhr ). One of the most famous collections of ballads is the Romanzero of Heinrich Heine ; in its day "romance" was synonymous with "ballad".

Ballads tell a story in a concise and concentrated form, which is presented in a scenic way: often several speakers appear in a ballad; Parts of the plot are reproduced verbatim in dialog.

Historically, between the 15th and 16th Century popular ballads and the later art ballads differentiated. The authors of the simple ballads were usually unknown. From the 18th century, well-known writers devoted themselves to ballad poetry. One can differentiate between natural magic ballads, historical ballads, hero ballads and socially critical ballads according to the thematic focus. The natural magic ballad comes from the time of Goethe; it was essentially founded by Goethe himself and his ballads "Der Fischer" (1778) and "Erlkönig" (1782). In the German Romantic era , too , numerous ballads were created that deal with the forces of nature and the supernatural.

Nature magic ballads are about people in a conflict with natural forces and supernatural powers. The natural and mythical creatures in the poems embody both fascination and threat: the human being is attracted and challenged by their forces. The world of fantasy and mythical creatures does not appear in the poems of Sturm und Drang and Romanticism as a positive alternative to reality. The poems are not about an escape into a fantasy world ; rather, the seduction of humans by fairy tale and mythical creatures is portrayed as a dangerous temptation that threatens loss of control, madness, doom or death.

The encounter between humans and mythical creatures has erotic connotations in some ballads: the mythical creatures are mostly beautiful and seductive women who plunge a man into ruin.


  • German ballads , published by Hartmut Laufhütte , Philipp Reclam jun. Stuttgart 1991, ISBN 3-15-008501-2
  • Deutsche Balladen - Volks– und Kunstballaden, Bänkelsang, Moritaten , edited and with an afterword by Peter Treichler, Manesse Verlag, Zurich 1993, ISBN 3-7175-1840-2 .

Ballad in 19th and 20th Century Music

In music, the ballad is first found in the high medieval dance song shown at the top. In the 19th century many literature ballads were set to music; the ballad takes on operatic effects such as recitatives or marches; the piano accompaniment is tonal and partly uses leitmotifs. The most famous composer was Carl Loewe , but also Schubert , who had composed the ballad Erlkönig , among others , while Schumann , Brahms and Hugo Wolf composed ballads. Ballads can also be found in the opera, for example in Wagner's Fliegendem Holländer (Ballade der Senta), or as choral works ( Schumann , Mendelssohn, etc.).

In non-vocal music, the title was initially used primarily for piano works based on literary models. B. in the four ballads by Chopin (presumably based on poems by Mickiewicz ) and Brahms (op. 10, based on Herder ), but later completely free in the sense of a character piece by Liszt , Brahms (late piano pieces from op. 76) or Grieg . See also ballad (piano music) . The most famous orchestral ballad is L'apprenti sorcier (after Goethe : The Sorcerer's Apprentice ) by Paul Dukas .

For ballads in popular music from the 20th century, see Ballad (popular music) .

See also


Web links


  1. set to music by Carl Loewe and Bertolt Brecht ( The Legend of Whore Evlyn Roe )
  2. Gerlinde Haid †, Art. "Tanzlied", in: Oesterreichisches Musiklexikon online, accessed: February 22, 2019 .