“There are … moments in many pieces we love — a fleeting passage, a short series of chords, some unexpected shift in a melodic line — when something occurs that just grabs us. I’m not talking about the obvious ones, those climactic blasts that pound you into submission, or those soaring lyrical lines that sweep you along. I’m thinking of subtle, almost stealthy musical moments that we might or might not notice at first hearing…
Why do these moments hook us? What happens musically to make a brief passage have such an oversized emotional impact?”
Anthony Tommasini, chief music critic for the New York Times, explains in concrete terms what can often not be explained at all. Why do some moments move us the way they do? He starts with Chopin’s first Ballade – music that tugged at his heart at age twelve.
“The ballade opened with a forceful line that began in the low register of the piano and rose up the keyboard in octaves, as if making some grim declaration. At the peak of the ascent the line twisted into a soft plaintive turn, delivered in two halting phrases.
Then something stunning happened, just for a moment: a short gesture, a softly sighing three-note melodic fragment landing on a dissonant-seeming chord that at first sounded as if it were wrong. Yet the harmony lingered, and the pungency of the clashing notes was strangely beautiful, almost comforting. This led into what seemed the saddest melody I had ever heard.”
Tommasini’s writing is so beautiful you can’t help but love the music he’s writing about. I’m with him on the impact of this piece of music. There are moments in the ballade and even more so – the first and last of Chopin’s Nocturnes - that reach out and grab my heart and make it ache. It aches and almost breaks and longs for something that is, I think, not in this world. Music has that power.
Read the whole article by Tommasini: Fleeting in the Ear, Forever in the Heart or watch the related video. He discusses (and, on the video, demonstrates) a number of pieces, with promises of more to come. Here is Krystian Zimerman performing the G Minor Ballade.
Thank you, Susan.
Image: Midwinter Dream
- Ex tempore (ladonasmusicstudio.com)
- Classical music: Today is Thanksgiving. Which composer, or piece of music, or performer, do you most give thanks for? (welltempered.wordpress.com)
- Chopin:70 Mozart:5 (ladonasmusicstudio.com)