When the song came on the radio, I was mesmerized by the simple, pretty piano notes. A 2/4 time rhythm echoed in the mid range, while the melody danced higher and lower. The song seemed to tell a story that touched the heart. When the final notes died away, the radio announcer came on and pronounced it "the prettiest little piano piece you'll probably ever hear." I agreed whole-heartedly. I waited for him to announce the composer and song title, wanting to log it away and find the sheet music to be able to bring the music to life on my own piano.
Tristesse, by Chopin.
I was immediately struck by the name of the song. Sadness. What sadness gives birth to such beautiful passages? When I think of sadness, I think of heartache, melancholy, pain, anger. I think of minor keys and deep low chords and chromatic notes and banging, frenetic licks. When I am sad, I don't feel beauty.
And yet, somehow, someone did. (Interestingly, not Chopin. He declared this piece the loveliest he had ever written, but this title was applied later on by others.) And it made me rethink what sadness is. It is true that something really only exists in relation to its opposite; there can be no sadness without happiness. And so perhaps the someone who gave the name "Tristesse" to this piece was feeling a sadness because of a past happiness. It is also sometimes called "Farewell." Farewell to a loved one passing through the thin veil separating this life and the next? Farewell to a lover, a relationship that drifted apart leaving not anger and explosion but a wistful remembrance of days gone by? Farewell to a daughter leaving the nest, off to begin her own family, set her own table, sweep her own hearth? Each of these has a touch of sadness in them, a sadness that settles in on the heart while yet a soft, sad smile rests on the lips.