The piece is only a page long and uses a descending melody line. The melody starts with the dominant B and works its way to the tonic E, but halfway through the piece the descending line is interrupted and the melody starts over again. Only in the last bars does the melody dissolve in the tonic and go through a chord progression to the soothing and satisfying E minor chord.
Hans von Bülow called the prelude "suffocation", due to its sense of despair. In fact, Chopin's last dynamic marking in the piece is smorzando, which means "dying away". But the prelude may have once been given a title. According to George Sand's daughter Solange, who stayed with the composer at the monastery in Mallorca when the preludes were written, "My mother gave a title to each of Chopin’s wonderful Preludes; these titles have been preserved on a score he gave to us."  That titled score is lost. But Solange did record the names of the preludes, apparently without assigning the names to the prelude numbers. It is believed that the title "Quelles larmes au fond du cloître humide?" ("What tears [are shed] from the depths of the damp monastery?") corresponds to Prelude No. 4.
Film and television
- Jack Nicholson's character plays the prelude in its entirety in the 1970 film Five Easy Pieces.
- Antonio Carlos Jobim's song "Insensatez" is based on the prelude.
- This piece is featured in The West Wing episode "Han" and is used as the embodiment of Han, for which "There is no literal English translation. It's a state of mind. Of soul, really. A sadness. A sadness so deep no tears will come. And yet still there's hope."
- The 2002 film The Pianist has this composition on its soundtrack.
- It is included on the soundtrack to the 2004 film The Notebook.
- The piece is featured in the 1961 British thriller Taste of Fear (US title: Scream of Fear).
- It is used in the soundtrack to the motion picture, Death Wish II (1982), although the composition is credited to Jimmy Page.
- Halfway through the 1931 film Street Scene, the prelude is faintly played in one of the apartments, as a piano–violin duet.
- This piece is played in the opening scene of the second season of The 100, when Clarke is being held in quarantine in Mount Weather.
- An uncredited string adaptation of this piece is featured in the soundtrack to the film A Tale of Two Cities, serving as the condemned seamstress's theme.
- Meryl Streep's and Simon Helberg's characters play this piece together in a poignant moment in the 2016 film Florence Foster Jenkins.
- In season 3 episode 3 of The Flash this song can be heard in the background of a scene in a restaurant.
- The 1945 British film A Place of One's Own features the piece when the ghost first possesses Annette (portrayed by Margaret Lockwood).
- This piece is mentioned in the book Fifty Shades of Gray and is featured in the movie by the same name.
- A jazz combo plays the piece with an additional interlude in the 1938 Austrian film Der Hampelmann by Karlheinz Martin in a nightclub scene featuring Hilde Krahl and Frits van Dongen
- Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl uses a tango version of the prelude for a striptease scene and during the end titles of his 2001 film Dog Days
- The piece is played in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode The Masterpiece Society.
- Sarah Miles plays the piece after her family home has been damaged by a German WWII bomb on a dust covered but, evidently, still functional upright piano, in John Boorman's 1987 film Hope and Glory.
Adaptations and covers
- The Gerry Mulligan Sextet recorded a jazz arrangement of the composition, named Prelude in E Minor, which appeared on their 1963 album Night Lights.
- An ambient chiptune musical arrangement entitled "Continuum" by Rich Vreeland is played during the normal ending of the video game Fez.
- The French rap band Suprême NTM sampled it for their song called "That's My People".
- Musician Rob Dougan composed and recorded "Clubbed To Death 2", a song which uses the prelude for most of its musical structure.
- Don Byron covered Prelude No. 4 on clarinet in a track named "Charley's Prelude" on his album "Bug Music".
- Serge Gainsbourg based his 1969 song "Jane B" on this prelude.
- The Radiohead song "Exit Music (For a Film)", which was written for the film Romeo + Juliet, and which featured on the band's album OK Computer, is based on the Prelude No. 4.
- Other musicians, such as Jimmy Page from rock band Led Zeppelin, have also made contemporary arrangements of this piece.
- The soundtrack of 1999 video game Age of Empires II contains the song "Pork Parts" composed by Stephen Rippy, based on this piece.
- Benjamin Zander talks in depth about the prelude in talks (the most notable being his TED2008 appearance) to persuade the public that Classical music is enjoyable by everyone.
- Chopin: Pianist and Teacher as Seen by His Pupils", by Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger, paperback p. 281
- "List of Solange's names of the Preludes". Archived from the original on 2014-03-02. Retrieved 2011-01-12.
- "Five Easy Pieces". IMDb. Retrieved 23 November 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- Biamonte, Nicole (2012). "Variations on a Scheme: Bach's 'Crucifixus' and Chopin's and Scriabin's E-Minor Preludes". Intégral. 26: 73. JSTOR 23629590.
- DVD at ca. 1:57:12 to 1:59:13, plus a reprise at ca. 2:03:13 to 2:03:51.
- "Classical Made Modern - contemporary arrangements of classical music". Retrieved 10 May 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- currennelson (2011-04-20), Jimmy Page Prelude No 4 in E minor, Op 28, retrieved 2016-07-03 CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- Benjamin, Zander. "The Transformative Power of Classical Music". TED. Retrieved 6 January 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)