[Created by Me] Background text from 吾輩は猫である by 夏目漱石。
On my way home from school one early afternoon with my father, we were listening to the classical music station on the radio when Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade had started playing with its flowing strings section and beautiful melody. My father, being a more experienced classical music enthusiast than I was, recognized it instantly, and he described to me in detail about how the strings section in the first movement was used to convey the movement of the waves of the ocean as Sinbad’s ship was sailing through the seas. It was when my father said that this particular musical work was based on the story of Sinbad the Sailor that I suddenly realized how great stories are when they are narrated or presented to an audience in forms other than words.
With that in mind, my thoughts instantly recalled Chopin’s 1st and 4th ballades, the first of which was heavily influenced by both world events and Chopin’s feelings as he was writing them. Having listened to both songs over 200 times already, I noticed at some point how both works contained such powerful emotions in them. Feeling more than just a little curious about what in the world inspired Chopin to write such incredible works, I did some research on both ballades and discovered some fairly interesting facts.
First, the musical form of piano ballade was invented by Chopin himself, and the form was used to narrate a story through the use of musical themes. The 1st and 4th ballades in particular have multiple repeating, but never identical, themes throughout them; the meaning of these musical themes is for the audience to decide.
Though I say that it is for the audience to decide the meaning of the ballades and their themes, Chopin did indeed compose these to works with feelings and stories that he wanted to audience to feel and experience.
The first ballade is said to reflect Chopin’s loneliness after he had fled from Poland to escape from the war against Russia, and it is quite direct with its presentation of emotions as it fluctuates between several uneasy and tumultuous themes. Loneliness is definitely perceivable throughout the powerful coda of the song.
The fourth ballade is the last of Chopin’s ballade written in his final years as a pianist and a composer. While I was unable to find exactly what had inspired Chopin to compose this ballade, I can say from my experience that it definitely creates the feeling of going through a long journey in life, particularly Chopin’s life. This ballade is very subtle with its emotions, and its overlying emotion is melancholy. The themes of this song have terrifyingly subtle transitions as the mood could be positive one moment before descending into pure rage and then shifting to a melancholic mood. The introduction and ending both appropriately represent the beginning and end of a person’s life too, and one can definitely feel the experiences of an entire lifetime that Chopin perfectly summarizes in 12 minutes as if they were a part of one’s own life.
I vehemently recommend listening to both of these wonderful ballades in order to experience the full set of experiences and the complete story that Chopin fits into the span of 9 to 12 minutes, as I have done but an inadequate job of explaining these song through my brief investigation. I do strongly believe that these two ballades contain a story that cannot simply be expressed through words alone.
On a side note, this post has almost nothing relating it to the kanji in the featured image, except for the fact that stories and music can be so closely related to each other.