Ballade Pour Adeline is a piano song composed in 1976. Over a decade later, by the time I was a teenager the song was still immensely popular. If Cupid were to use a piano instead of a bow and arrow this would be the song he would play to make women fall in love.
I was sent to attend a seminar related to my work recently and during the introductions when I mentioned that my passion was playing the piano the speaker instantly asked if I could play this piano song. Her face lit up when I admitted I could. Even now, more than thirty years later Adeline continues to weave her magic.
Typically a love song is expected to start with a slower pace, but in Adeline we see her sing in dramatic fashion immediately in the first bar. The piano score shows a pattern of semiquavers closely lined up next to each other. The left hand is given the easy task of hitting the middle C repeatedly four times while the right hand executes the dramatic opening phrase using fingers 1,3 and 4.
The phrase extends into the next bar in a similar rhythm, however the pattern has differed slightly. In the first bar the notes are Middle-C, G, C(one octave higher) and D, now it has evolved into Middle-C, G, E and a return to the G again. Hence the fingering has to change too.
I am fond of reminding myself of the necessity in switching the fingers used to play the second bar after rendering the first bar due the repetitive patterns involved. The mind tends to fall into a complacent state when it has settled into a routine.
I have to tell myself to be mindful of escaping the pattern in the first bar in order to be able to progress to the next one and proceed to play the rest of this seductive musical poem.
As you progress, it leads you to a line of double note chords. They are mostly repeated ‘AF’s, played with fingers 1 and 5, which makes them quite manageable, but as you make your way towards the end of the phrase, an ascending slope of BG and CA cast an obstacle challenging our abilities to complete it perfectly.
Furthermore, the CA are semiquavers that have to be played quicker than the BG before it. Your rhythmic sense, accuracy on the keyboard and timing take central role in making the smooth round tone demanded when making the climb up the slope and descending it to end the phrase correctly.
On the piano score I am looking at, it advices the pianist to use a combination of fingers that I have chosen to ignore. Instead, it is a lot easier to just stick to using 1 and 5 for this little hiking adventure.
After accomplishing that wonderful part of the piano song, the middle section poses one interesting technical question. How firm can you hold down two keys together with the third and fifth fingers? The fifth finger is always the weakest one – especially when playing chords.
In first bar of the fifth line in this piano song, a group of double notes CE, BD and AC requiring the fifth finger to work in harmony with third finger demand extra attention. They are separated from each other by a semiquaver E which is played using the thumb. What we would get is a rotary motion from the hand - picture yourself turning a door knob. Loosen the wrist while doing the rotary movement and the result will be a most desireable melody.
A melody that is a prelude to one of the most breathtaking piano tune ever composed. This is what makes ‘Ballade Pour Adeline’ evergreen all these decades - the tightly knit string of demisemiquavers escalating from a G one octave lower from middle C to the D two octaves higher from it. They are to be played with rapid fire velocity, smooth and unbroken in flawless legato.
As in any phrase that moves up the keyboard, it is recommended that you include the dynamics in your touch as the fingers land on the keys to add a bit of emotion into the music. Emotions, feelings, expression whatever mushy stuff people say a pianist should convey – right here, in the 7th line of the song is where you show it. This is the moment Cupid’s arrow strikes the heart.