Chopin: Ballade No.1 in G minor Op.23 Analysis



Form: Through-composed. G Minor

Chopin Ballade No.1 in G minor Op.23 Analysis


Bars 1-7: Introduction, G minor, with some tonal ambiguity due to the absence of the tonic triad. It begins with an arpeggiated Neapolitan 6th chord (C – E flat – A flat), with both hands in unison at the octave. The inclusion of a lower neighbour note, B flat, forms a motif that will be heard, transposed, in the second theme (B flat – C – A flat).

Bars 6-7 contain chordal harmony, using inversions of chords iv and VI7; the final chord has the dominant note in the bass, and will resolve to a dominant seventh chord in the first bar of the Moderato.


Bars 8-36: First theme, G minor. The key is established by dominant seventh and tonic harmony in Bar 8-9. The main motif, introduced in Bra 8, consists of a languidly rising arpeggio, decorated with an upper neighbour note (B flat, resolving to A).

There are brief suggestions of B flat major (the relative major key, Bars 14-16) and C minor, the subdominant key, Bar 21-25), but the passage remains in G minor, with a meandering feel, eventually ending in a V7 – i cadence in Bars 35-36.

The theme is embellished with a florid vocal-like fioritura in Bar 33.

The harmony is coloured by diatonic sevenths, (e.g. ii half diminished seventh, first beat of Bar 10), secondary dominant sevenths (e.g. the dominant seventh of V, second beat of Bar 11), diminished sevenths (e.g. E natural – G – B flat – D flat, second beat of Bar 13) and suspensions (e.g. E flat, A and C sharp resolving to D, B flat and D in Bar 15).

Bars 36-67: Interlude, becoming increasingly animated.

The opening passage (Bars 36-40) features appoggiaturas in both hands (e.g. F resolving to E flat and E flat resolving to D in Bar 36). It ends with a V7 – i cadence in G minor in Bar 39-40, then is repeated, agitato.

The sempre più mosso passage is based on tonic, dominant, and diminished seventh harmony, with a strong tonic presence in the bass (almost a pedal point). Appoggiaturas and accented passing notes (e.g. F resolving to E flat and D resolving to C in Bar 45) create expressive dissonance.

Bars 62-67 move towards B flat major, via an augmented triad in Bar 62 (G flat – B flat – D), settling on the dominant chord in Bar 64; the root and fifth of the chord (F – C) are repeated throughout Bars 65-67.


Bars 68-82: Second theme, Part I, E flat major. The F and C from the preceding bars are incorporated into the opening V9 – I progression in Bars 68-69; Bars 70-71 use a similar progression up a fifth, so at first there is some uncertainty about whether B flat or E flat is the key.

The harmony moves in a circle of fifths in Bars 72-75 (indicated by the two lowest bass notes of each bar: F – B flat – E flat – A flat – D – G – C – F), with extensive use of suspensions and appoggiaturas in the melody for expressive dissonance.

The theme is restated from Bar 76, now ending with a strong VI7 – II7 – V7 – I progression in Bars 80-82 to confirm the key of E flat major.

There is a constant crotchet (quarter note) broken chord accompaniment through this passage, with some syncopation in the melody, including an implied hemiola in Bar 73-74, where the right hand part of each bar is grouped into three minims (half notes) rather than two.

Bars 82-94: Second theme, Part II, continuing in E flat major, with a tonic pedal in the bass in Bars 82-90.

The melodic motif in this passage sometimes recalls the first theme (compare, for instance, Bars 8 and 85).

The harmony rises by thirds in Bars 90-93 (E flat – G – B flat – D in the bass), moving towards A minor and settling on its dominant in Bar 94.


Bars 94-105: First theme, A minor, with a dominant pedal in the bass. The melody keeps stepping up to the leading note in Bars 102, 103, and 104, as if striving for the tonic, but is sent back to the submediant note instead each time. The prevailing diminished seventh harmony in these bars heightens the sense of harmonic frustration.

Bars 106-125: Second theme, Part I, A major. The initial dominant seventh and tonic progression releases the tension that had built up in the preceding bars. The theme is now much more exuberant than before, in strong chordal texture and with some florid embellishment. The transformation of its character is reflected in the choice of key (a tritione away from the original key of E flat major).

The ending is extended from Bar 118, leading to a fff diminished seventh chord in Bar 124.

Bars 126-165: Interlude, beginning with 12 bars based on the dominant minor ninth chord of E flat. The right hand has continuous quavers (eighth notes), sometimes in hemiola rhythm (e.g Bars 126-129).

The scherzando passage from Bar 138 is a transformation of the earlier interlude material form Bars 36-40. It continues in E flat major, using tonic and dominant seventh harmony at first.

Bars 146-148 and 150-153 contain rising sequences. There is an unexpected shift to F sharp minor in Bars 154-155, and the bass descends by semitones in Bars 155-158, leading to the tonic chord of E flat major in second inversion.

The key of E flat major is reconfirmed by dominant and tonic harmony in Bars 158-163, and there is a momentary shift to E flat minor in Bars 164-165.

Bars 166-193: Second theme, Parts I and II, now in the original key of E flat major, but louder and more forthright in nature than the first presentation.

Bars 191-193 return to G minor.


Bars 194-208: First theme, G minor, with a dominant pedal in the bass, beginning as a transposition of Bars 94-105. The harmonic tension is resolved by a V7 – i cadence in Bars 207-208.


Bars 208-264: Coda, G minor. The resolution of harmonic tension releases an outburst of energy which continues throughout this passage.

The opening bars are based on chords i, ii half diminished seventh, and V7. The Neapolitan sixth reappears in Bars 216, and 224, together with many dominant and diminished sevenths, and some chromatic movement in the bass, but there is no further modulation.

There is an extended dominant-tonic progression in Bars 246-252, and there are references to the first theme in Bare 253 and 257.

The piece ends with stark double-octave chromatic scales, moving in contrary motion to the tonic note (Bars 258-260), then descending in similar motion (Bars 260-262), following by concluding tonic harmony.