I have always loved piano music. Played well, many instruments can echo a wide range of emotion, but there’s just something about the sound of a piano. Particularly when it comes to sad music. For centuries composers have poured their heartaches into a piano, and in turn, pianists pour them all back out in the beautiful sounds that cascade from their fingers, often infused with their own regrets or hardships.
Victor Hugo said “Music expresses that which cannot be said, and on which it is impossible to be silent.” Others have said that music is emotion made into sound. With instrumental music, it is wonderful that although we can know a specific intent for the emotional expression of a piece, its power is not limited to that intent. Even though Puccini wrote the “Crisantemi” overnight in 1890 as a response to the death of the Duke of Savoy, I can sit here in 2014 and hear the sound of my own troubles.
Sometimes I might hear the melancholy of a whole nation in a piece written by one of their citizens, even if they weren’t trying to speak it. I don’t mean to sound melodramatic, I just mean that when listening to certain pieces by Rachmaninoff I can hear grief for lost countrymen in war, or the incredible strain of long, hungry, deep Russian winters. Things I know about countries, people, and cultures come to mind and color my perception of their music. The longings of Israel sung by their wistful clarinets, or of slaves in their spiritual songs.
I don’t mean to discount pieces with lyrics. Take “Mansions of the Lord” for example, an utterly heartrending tribute to fallen military heroes. Or “Soon Ah Will Be Done”. Our deepest longings to meet Jesus, and see those we love who’ve gone to Heaven before us, turned into the sound of human voices.
Of course music, like everything else, was created for God’s glory and will ultimately be used for His worship in eternity. However, it is also a gift of God that, in the meantime, while we wait on this groaning Earth in our wretched fallenness, we can use music to tell our anguish as well as our worship.
For believers in Jesus Christ, our mourning is temporary, to be quelled with the glorious certainty of our hope.
For the lost there is nothing to explain their pain, nothing to tame the despair and the great, screaming sound of it pours out everywhere in music.
These are just ponderings brought on by a photograph I saw today. Someone had taken an old piano and turned it into a outdoor planter and fountain. Water pouring from the keys, it looks as though it is weeping.
For me, a perfect visual of an instrument’s power to reflect human sorrow.