About French poetry

Ballade – poetry and song

Ballade, one of several formes fixes (“fixed forms”) in French lyric poetry and song, cultivated particularly in the 14th and 15th centuries (compare rondeau; virelai).
Strictly, the ballade consists of three stanzas and a shortened final dedicatory stanza. All the stanzas have the same rhyme scheme and the same final line, which thus forms a refrain (R). Each of the three main stanzas is built in three sections, the first two of which have the same rhyme scheme.

The total form can be expressed:[Representation of the rhyme scheme of the ballade.]

The final dedicatory stanza is called the prince (because that is usually its first word), or the envoi. The chant royal is similar to the ballade but has five main stanzas.

The general shape of the ballade is present in the poetry of many ages. . . . But in its purest form the ballade is found only in France and England.

The immediate precursors of the ballade can be found in the songs of the troubadours (poet-musicians using the Provençal language), which frequently employ the a a b stanza pattern with an envoi. They normally have more than three stanzas, however, and the refrain line, if there is one, is often not the last line of the stanza. In the later 13th century the standard form appears more and more frequently in the French songs of the trouvères (the northern counterparts of the troubadours).

The songs of the trouvères and troubadours are monophonic (having one melody line or voice part). The history of the polyphonic ballade begins with Guillaume de Machaut, the leading French poet and composer of the 14th century. He wrote more songs in this than in any other form. In his work can be seen the gradual emergence of a standard manner of setting a ballade and in particular the convention of closing the second a section with a musical epilogue that is repeated at the end of the stanza.

The ballade was the most expansive of the formes fixes, and Machaut used it to express the loftiest emotions. The texts more often contained elaborate symbolism and classical references than did those of the other formes fixes. Later in the 14th century, the ballade was used for the most solemn and formal songs: the celebration of special patrons, the commemoration of magnificent occasions, the declarations of love in the highest style.

In the 15th century the form became less popular. The foremost Burgundian composer, Guillaume Dufay, wrote few ballades, almost all of which can be connected with specific occasions and all early in his life. Later in the century, musical ballades are rare except in the work of English composers. . . .

The form gradually disappeared among the poets, too, only to reappear spasmodically in the work of later writers as a conscious archaism. But there are fine examples from the 15th century among the work of Alain Chartier, Charles, Duke d’Orléans, and Jean Molinet; and François Villon’s best-known poem is a ballade with the refrain line “Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?” (“But where are the snows of yesteryear?”).

Note :
Lyric, a verse or poem that is, or supposedly is, susceptible of being sung to the accompaniment of a musical instrument (in ancient times, usually a lyre) or that expresses intense personal emotion in a manner suggestive of a song. Lyric poetry expresses the thoughts and feelings of the poet and is sometimes contrasted with narrative poetry and verse drama, which relate events in the form of a story. Elegies, odes, and sonnets are all important kinds of lyric poetry . . . . . . . . . . .

Written By: The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica