Music of Inexpressible Sadness–and Beauty

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The other day I heard Chopin’s Prelude in E-minor, and it reminded me of another piece of music, in another genre, separated by hundred+ years and thousands of miles.  Chopin composed twenty four preludes in 1839, one for each key.  The short E minor prelude is one of the loveliest of them all.

Baden Powell, the Brazilian guitarist par excellence–his scouting-enthusiast father named him after the British founder of the Boy Scouts)– was born in Rio in 1937 but left Brazil in 1968 because of the dictatorship, just like Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil.  The generals didn’t trust musicians and many suffered and were exiled because of it.

He wrote the gorgeous “Serenata do Adeus” (Serenata of Farewells) while living in France (he later moved to Baden-Baden, Germany!)  The piece evokes maximal saudade and the spirit of Portuguese fado as well.  Saudade is an untranslatable word with no precise English meaning involving longing sadness or nostalgia, a sort of Lusophone blues.

The word goes back to the national Portuguese song form, fado, which arose when women saw their sailor lovers and husbands go off to sea in the 16th-18th centuries on long voyages circumnavigating the world, never knowing if they’d see them again.  While Brazilian music is different from Portuguese music because of the strong African rhythmic element (Brazil had more Africans than any other new world country), the spirit of saudade often inhabits Brazilian music.

[audio:éludes-Op.-28-4-In-E-Minor.mp3|titles=04 Chopin_ Préludes, Op. 28 – #4 In E Minor]So here are the two pieces.  The Chopin Em Prelude is performed by Ivo Pogorelich;  The Powell Serenata from a transcribed performance by a French guitarist (I was unable to contact the repertoire owner—Caju Music in Brazil—to secure permission to stream, so we’ll use this version, which is very good.