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Ballata

For eight string instruments (2009)

Duration: 18 min.
Instrumentation: 3 vns., 2 vla., 2 vc., cb.
Publisher: Ricordi
Commission: Birmingham Contemporary Music Group

World Premiere: 25 Jamuary 2009
Birmingham, CBSO Centre.
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.
George Benjamin, conductor

The title bears a resemblance with an imaginary poem. In fact, the piece originates from two narrative songs: a lullaby sung by an unidentified female vocalist, recorded by Alan Lomax in southern Italy during the 50s, and a ballade, Ecco la primavera, composed in XIV century by Francesco Landini. The text and the meaning of these songs are very different. Landini’s ballade exhorts to enjoy the spring, the «time to fall in love / and put on a merry face», whereas the lullaby is about the death of innocents and infants: «[…] the wolf has eaten the little lamb. / Oh my little lamb, what did you do […] when you saw death, without your mother?». However, these songs are about love, seen in its springlike flourishing and plentifulness, that evokes fear of loss and despair.
The music of Ballata flows in opposite directions, starting from an unsettling, continuous movement, alternating periods of stasis and silence with intense melodies and harmonies. It is scored for eight solo strings.

26 September 2009.  [US P]
Ithaca (NY), Barnes Hall
Cornell University.
Ensemble X.
Francesco Antonioni, conductor.

8 February 2010  [IT P]
Torino, Auditorium.
RAI Nuova Musica.
Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI.
Fabio Maestri, conductor
[Live broadcast and video streaming]

3 August 2012
L’Aquila (IT)
Cantieri dell’immaginario.
Solisti Aquilani.
Pietro Borgonovo, conductor.
Giorgio Rossi, choreographer.

6 April 2013
London, Wigmore Hall,
George Benjamin Day.
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.
George Benjamin, conductor
[Guardian, Independent, Telegraph reviews]

7 April 2013.
Birmingham, CBSO Centre.
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.
George Benjamin, conductor.

16 November 2014 [DE P]
Köln Philharmonie.
Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI.
Juraj Valčhua, conductor
[Radio broadcast]. 

«Whether sensuous or assertive, the string writing is wonderfully assured. It's a piece that exudes the confidence of a composer who knows exactly what he wants and how to achieve it»
Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 28 Jan 2009


«The other two pieces played by BCMG, Francesco Antonioni’s touchingly folk-like Ballata […], were less self-consciously honed. But it was here that real feeling stood centre-stage, rather than hiding in the wings.»
Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph, 8 Apr 2013



«A gorgeously realised abstract piece tracing moods from joy to grief.»
Paul Kilbey, Bachtrack, 8 Apr 2013



«The expression is tense and taut, with the only concession to colour and varied timbre being the viola, which is tuned up a tone to sound like a Greek or Balkan folk instrument in its dark keening. It comes as no surprise, given the delicately controlled sound and movement and the rigour of the writing, that Antonioni has been a pupil of George Benjamin. His mentor conducted a finely tuned and highly charged performance of the work»
Hilary Finch, The Times 29 Jan 2009



«This substantial piece for eight strings impressed with the variety of its textures and its continuous proliferation of the opening motive of thirds, constantly reforming and moving in new directions.»
John Gough, Birmingham Post 29 Jan 2009



«Ethnomusicologists are like bees, with melodies being the pollen they transfer from culture to culture. In the 1950s the great American ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax went on a song-collecting trip to Italy, and brought back recordings of a wealth of music which is now mostly extinct. Listening to those recordings, the Italian composer Francesco Antonioni was entranced by a lullaby which he’s now made the focus for a new work, Ballata, with which musicians from the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group beat up a fine storm at the Wigmore; under George Benjamin’s direction, its intricate traceries and unexpected sonorities came across with raw intensity»
Michael Church, The Independent, 8 Apr 2013


«Surprisingly for the evening concert of "Benjamin Day", [Into the Little Hill] was the only work by the composer on the programme. But he could be justifiably proud conducting Ballata by his former pupil Francesco Antonioni, premiered by the BCMG in 2009. A substantial, purposeful work for string octet, it moves seamlessly from passages of wheeling, […] complexity to episodes of slow, startling intensity»
Erica Jeal, The Guardian, 8 Apr 2013


«A lyrical impulse, […] persistently manifested itself. There were some beautiful ‘frozen’ or, perhaps better, ‘freezing’ moments too.»
Mark Berry, Boulezian, 7 Apr 2013