Music Telling Stories
Music is full of stories! Whether they're told through lyrics or simply conveyed through the sound of the music itself, stories are an integral part of the musical experience. Classical music is rich with stories, some of which are told through opera and ballet, while others are conveyed purely through instrumental music. In this blog I’ll give you some popular music examples and some classical music examples.
Popular Music Examples
"Bohemian Rhapsody" - Queen: This song tells the story of a man who has just committed murder and is facing the consequences of his actions. The song's lyrics are cryptic and open to interpretation, but they paint a vivid picture of the man's mental state as he struggles with guilt, fear, and despair. The song's structure is also notable for its use of different musical styles, including ballad, opera, and hard rock, which adds to its epic feel and emotional intensity.
"The Devil Went Down To Georgia" - The Charlie Daniels Band: This song tells the story of a young boy named Johnny who is challenged by the devil to a fiddle-playing contest. The stakes are high, as Johnny's soul is on the line if he loses. The song's lyrics are full of vivid descriptions of the contest, including the devil's impressive fiddle-playing skills and Johnny's determination to win. The song's catchy chorus and fast-paced fiddle playing make it a favourite at parties and events.
"Piano Man" - Billy Joel: This song tells the story of a piano player at a bar who observes the different characters who come and go throughout the night. The song's lyrics are full of colourful descriptions of the bar's patrons, from the "real estate novelist" to the "waitress practicing politics." The piano player himself is also a character in the story, as he reflects on his own struggles as a musician and the emotional connection he feels with the people he plays for. The song's melody and harmonies are melancholic and nostalgic, capturing the bittersweet feeling of looking back on a moment in time.
"American Pie" - Don McLean: This song is a tribute to the history of rock and roll, from the day Buddy Holly died to the end of the 1960s. The lyrics are full of allusions and references to famous musicians and events, from Elvis Presley to the Beatles to the Woodstock festival. The song's structure is also notable for its use of repetition and call-and-response, which create a sense of community and shared experience. The song has been interpreted in many different ways over the years, but it remains a powerful reflection on the ways that music can shape our lives and our culture.
"Hotel California" - The Eagles: This song tells the story of a traveler who stumbles upon a mysterious hotel that he can never leave. The song's lyrics are full of surreal imagery and allusions to the darker side of fame and fortune. The hotel itself is a metaphor for the music industry, with its seductive promises and dangerous pitfalls. The song's guitar riffs and harmonies are haunting and memorable, capturing the eerie feeling of being trapped in a place that you can't escape.
Classical Music Examples
"Symphony No. 5" - Ludwig van Beethoven: This symphony is one of Beethoven's most famous and well-known works. The opening movement begins with a distinctive four-note motif that is repeated throughout the symphony, creating a sense of unity and continuity. The second movement features a beautiful and haunting melody played by the cellos and basses, while the third movement is a scherzo that is full of energy and vitality. The final movement is a triumphant and exhilarating finale that features the famous "da-da-da-dum" motif.
"The Nutcracker" - Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: This ballet was first performed in 1892 and has since become a beloved holiday tradition. The story is based on a children's book by E.T.A. Hoffmann, and it tells the story of a young girl named Clara who falls asleep on Christmas Eve and dreams of a magical world of sugar plums, gingerbread men, and dancing flowers. The music is full of memorable melodies, including the famous "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy," which features a delicate and sparkling celesta. We’ll be discovering more about Tchaikovsky as he is our composer of the month.
"Peer Gynt Suite" - Edvard Grieg: This suite of orchestral pieces was composed by Grieg in 1875 and was inspired by Henrik Ibsen's play "Peer Gynt." The music captures the various moods and scenes of the play, from the gentle and pastoral "Morning Mood" to the frantic and frenzied "Hall of the Mountain King." The suite is notable for its use of folk melodies and Norwegian rhythms, which give the music a distinct and recognisable flavour.
"Symphonie Fantastique" - Hector Berlioz: This symphony was composed in 1830 and tells the story of an artist who becomes obsessed with a woman and plunges into a series of emotional and psychological crises. The music is full of vivid and dramatic imagery, including the eerie sound of the harps in the opening movement and the ominous tolling of the bells in the fourth movement. The symphony is also notable for its use of the idée fixe, a recurring musical theme that represents the artist's obsession with the woman.
"Carmen" - Georges Bizet: This opera premiered in Paris in 1875 and tells the story of a passionate and rebellious woman named Carmen, who seduces a soldier named Don José and leads him to ruin. The music is full of lively and colourful Spanish rhythms and melodies, and it captures the heat and intensity of the story. The opera's most famous aria is "Habañera," in which Carmen sings about her love of freedom and her disdain for the constraints of society.