bal·lad / ˈbaləd/ • n. a poem or song narrating a story in short stanzas. Traditional ballads are typically of unknown authorship, having been passed on orally from one generation to the next as part of the folk culture. ∎ a slow sentimental or romantic song. ORIGIN: late 15th cent. (denoting a light, simple song): from Old French balade, from Provençalbalada ‘dance, song to dance to,’ from balar‘to dance,’ from late Latin ballare (seeball2 ). The sense ‘narrative poem’ dates from the mid 18th cent.
1. Properly a song to be danced to (It. ballare, to dance) but from the 16th cent. or earlier the term has been applied to anything singable, simple, popular in style, and for solo v.
2. The word ‘ballad’ was in the 19th cent. also attached to the simpler type of ‘drawing-room song’—sometimes called ‘Shop Ballad’, possibly to distinguish it from those hawked by the ballad-seller on broadsheets. Hence the Eng. ‘Ballad Concerts’ inaugurated by the mus. publisher, John Boosey, in 1867.
3. Self-contained narrative song, such as Loewe's Edward or Schubert's Erlkönig. Also applied to certain narrative operatic arias, e.g. Senta's ballad in Wagner's Der fliegende Holländer.
4. Term applied in jazz to sentimental song.