Though Chopin may have invented the genre and made it virtually his own, other great 19th-century composers have also left us piano Ballades.
Yet the form, narrative and loose structure, still exerts its attractions even in the 21st century, and Sunday afternoon's recital from Emanuel Ax, one of Birmingham's favourite visitors, featured two world premieres.
Ji-Dong-Nuo by the Chinese composer Chen Yi (who, during the notorious Cultural Revolution, suffered for her art in the way few western composers have had to) relays a charming fairy-tale in delicate, short-breathed gestures exploring various registers of the keyboard, the modes and mannerisms of this lovely, affectionate little piece occasionally evoking Debussy.
And no greater a pianistic role-model than Chopin is evoked by the fashionable Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho in her Ballade written as recently as last July. This arrestingly Romantic piece grows naturally out of traditional pianistic textures and rhetoric, ending with a resonantly pedalled downward glissando.
The four Ballades by a young Brahms with their subtle emotional shifts found Ax drawing delicate shadings not always looked for in this composer. Articulation, particularly in bass forays, was amazingly clear, with the Ax left thumb elsewhere singing a wonderful baritonal line.
Virtuosity goes un-noticed with the modest Ax, but was there a-plenty in Liszt's B minor Ballade, full of dramatic strength and such a precursor of the composer's great Sonata in the same key.
Finally came Chopin's fabulous quartet of Ballades, the poetically responsive Ax's command of volume sonorous but never strident (therefore totally authentic), his rubato gentle and natural, his delineation of filigree properly vocal and, where appropriate, dance-like.
Chopin's Berceuse, surprisingly swift in delivery, made a well-chosen encore.