About this work
Unlike its predecessors, this ballade has no clear link to the poetry of Adam Mickiewicz. Some observers have suggested as inspiration Mickiewicz's The Three Brothers Budrys, about siblings who go off to capture sables, disappear for a while, and ultimately return sharing a wife. It would be very difficult, though, to trace this story through Chopin's music, and the ballade's sequence of moods could easily apply to many other stories, or no particular story at all.
The F minor ballade, dedicated to Baronne Nathalie de Rothschild, follows the general pattern of its predecessors in relying on episodes of contrasting mood and thematic transformation, alternating very simple phrases with passages of great elaboration. The gentle opening is harmonically ambiguous, but settles into a delicate, wistful, decidedly F minor Slavic theme. Chopin repeats the theme, but not exactly; he alters the phrasing and the elaboration of the melody in subtle, expressive ways. The theme's next appearance is more troubled and fragmented; it becomes more agitated with the addition of an ornamental countermelody. After a climax, a lilting chordal section arrives. This material grows increasingly elaborate, and soon begins to intertwine with the first theme. Chopin thins the musical texture, brings everything to a brief halt, then reintroduces the first theme in a particularly dark, desolate mode. From this point, he essentially repeats the patterns he established in the work's first half, except that now the music is always more restless, with more complex accompanying lines and a higher pitch of excitement. The final section is particularly turbulent, ending with four feverish chords.