Sadness: Chopin

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Frederic_Chopin_photoTo wrap up the sadness and sorrow in my series on Emotion in Classical music, I thought I’d share with you Piano Prelude No. 4 in E Minor by Frederic Chopin (1810-1849). By the way, his last name is pronounced “show-pan.” Just at little pet-peeve of mine.

Other than the guitar, the piano is my favorite solo instrument. It is amazing that the action of pushing down a key that operates a lever that pushes a hammer against two strings can sound so expressive. I have heard performances of music by Franz Liszt and Robert Schumann that make the piano sound like a full orchestra, or pieces by Claude Debussy that make it sound like a soft flute or a human voice. Or water trickling down a stream, or a thunderstorm, or beating heart. In Prelude No. 4, the piano sounds like sighing, or rain drops streaming down a nearby window.

There is pain in this piece but it is not as intense. It is more reflective. It feels like regretting a missed opportunity, remembering how great things used to be compared to now (the “good old days”), going to work when it’s your birthday, or perhaps remembering a loved one who is long gone. The melody and harmony give the listener a feeling of sinking, as they have a downward contour, going from the note A to E. There is a moment where our feelings are becoming more intense and less responsive to reason, as in the middle section with the fast, high notes, but that quickly returns to the dreary atmosphere in which it began. Just when the listener expects a resolution, Chopin surprises him with a false, or deceptive chord. To me, this represents the way one can not find a fitting resolution to feelings or regret or sorrow. In the end, it becomes tiring to dwell on it, which is where I believe the end of this prelude leaves us. What does this piece represent for you?

Deep space nebulaeChange in program: next week’s emotion will not be Loneliness/Isolation, it will be Awe/Wonder. I thought this would be fitting given the Christmas season. There are some great pieces I had planned to discuss in Loneliness and Isolation such as Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata or J.S. Bach’s Chaconne for Solo Violin, but that’ll have to come at another time. Merry Christmas!

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Big idea

I want to create a multimedia presentation, perhaps an eBook, on the pieces of music that are most meaningful to me. I want to narrate what is happening in those pieces and what I listen for. I would include pictures, audio clips, videos, and related pieces that remind me of the works being presented. I would discuss some of the music theory behind it, but only in order to shed light on how the composer achieves the affect of the music or to explain why that particular piece is unique.

While I believe presenting facts about the music and its composer is important to developing and enhancing the listener’s appreciation of it, I want to tie in people’s personal experiences with the music. I hope to include prominent reviews of the music and perhaps some short interviews with music professors, performers, and composers. I am also interested in the opinions of those who may not be trained in classical music, but appreciate it as well.

In order to choose the format of my presentation, I plan to do a survey of related literature. This will help me find inspiration and narrow what it is I have to contribute.

Influences:

Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra
My wife and I attended Fort Worth Symphony concerts on and off for the last several years we’ve lived in Texas. For me, each concert was a delight and I was fully engaged. For Dawn, her levels of delight varied. The times where she enjoyed the concerts the most are when a visual element was added, not to upstage the music, but to enhance the audience’s understanding and imagination of the music. Her appreciation grew when time was taken to highlight sections of the music with imagery.

Two examples are of concerts with Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite and Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe Suite, and of Holst’s The Planets. For the two suites, which are both based on mythology, paintings of ancient Russian mythology and the story of Daphnis and Chloe were displayed on a large screen above the orchestra. With The Planets, the most recent images taken by NASA of the other 7 planets were displayed in high definition in the most dramatic way. The slide shows were timed to the music so that paintings that inspired greater emotion displayed at an emotional high point in the music.

It gave me much pleasure to see her excited about Classical music. I want to incorporate a visual element to my presentation of classical music if not so others can appreciate it better, than just for her. I love you, Dawn!

Benjamin Zander’s Ted Talk
In this brilliant presentation, Zander used a Chopin piano prelude to prove that everyone can “come to love and understand Classical music.” He spoke about what it is like to perform the music, gave a very simple framework for the form of the music (going from the note B to the note A, the C is played to make the B sound sad, etc), mentioned a few related works (Mozart Symphony No. 40, Shakespeare’s Hamlet), and spoke of vision and following the long line from the beginning to the end (a life lesson).

I appreciated how he validated that many don’t have an interest in classical music, some are lulled to sleep, and some lost focus after a couple minutes and wonder “What’s for lunch?” I think it is important to validate people’s objections to listening to and appreciating it. The way Benjamin Zander overcame this is by relating the music to something personal to the audience. He told a story of how a listener was impacted by this and was able to mourn the death of his brother for the first time by listening to the Chopin prelude. This is one approach that I want to use in advocating for classical music.

Those are the two biggest influences. In future posts, I will discuss other media that influence my desire to write, including:

Fantasia and Fantasia 2000
Blast!
Keeping Score (PBS)
The Philadelphia Orchestra filing for bankruptcy
Dan Pink – TMEA Keynote speech (from his book, A Whole New Mind)

Until then, thanks for reading!