The Saudade of Frederic Chopin, Alexander Scriabin, and Baden Powell

Written by
Baden Powell

I find it interesting when other languages have words denoting or describing things that the English language has no equivalent for. Saudade is a Portuguese-language word difficult to translate adequately, one which describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic longing for something or someone that one was fond of and which is lost. It may have come from the Portuguese musical form of fado; that word means fate. It often carries a fatalist tone and a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might really never return. Saudade has been described as a “vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist … a turning towards the past or towards the future.” It may also be translated as a deep longing or yearning for something which does not exist or is unattainable. Vinicius de Moraes, Brazilian poet, lyricist, and statesman (he was Vice-Consul at the Brazilian Consulate in Los Angeles 1947-50), once remarked: “Sadness has no end; happiness does.”

Alexander Scriabin (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

I want to showcase three works that express deep feeling, longing, and sadness–all without words.  The two works couldn’t be more different in terms of genres.  The first is a prelude by Frédéric Chopin, his Prelude #4 in E minor.  The second work is by Russian composer Alexander Scriabin from 1887. And the final selection is from Brazilian guitarist/composer Baden Powell from 1963. Together, the three musical works show that feeling is universal, not temporal, and that nothing, no other art form, expresses emotion as much as music. Saudade is about feeling and isn’t restricted to Brazilian music. I think the Scriabin piece is evident of that. These pieces convey an ineffable sadness.

First, the exquisitely sad Chopin prelude performed by Argentine pianist Martha Argerich:

Here is Vladimir Horowitz performing Scriabin’s Etude #1 in C minor:

And Baden Powell’s magnificent “Serenata do Adeus,” the Serenade of Farewells: