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Captivating Keys

Updated: Jun 22

22 Jun. 13. 12:39.

Music and Identity in ‘THE LEGEND OF 1900’

The melodic sound of piano strings in the movie ‘THE LEGEND OF 1900’ creates an enchanting atmosphere, particularly in the musical piece titled ‘Playing Love,’ which can be found on YouTube. This evocative melody conveys a sense of romanticism, intensifying the emotional connection between a man and a woman. The visual frames in the film further enhance this feeling. The piece is composed when the piano player catches sight of a captivating woman through the ship’s glass window. Unperturbed by the audience’s judgment of her charm, he becomes mesmerized and enchanted.

The film revolves around a piano prodigy who embarks on a remarkable journey aboard a grand ship. Through visual and temporal storytelling, we witness a significant moment as a African American man explores an abandoned party room, symbolizing wealth and honor. It is in this room that his steps come to an abrupt halt near a piano. However, it is not the piano itself that grabs his attention, but rather a white infant lying atop it, deliberately abandoned by his parents.

This poignant scene carries profound symbolism. A person of African American descent, often associated with hard work, poverty, and the blues and jazz genres, discovers a white baby lying on an empty piano—a vessel waiting to be filled with the ship’s world, jazz, blues, labor, and the harsh realities that will shape the child’s future life in ‘THE LEGEND OF 1900.’

We can only imagine the madness and greatness that will emanate from the piano as this man channels his interpretations through its tones and melodies. Born into an environment where he grew up amid the relentless toil beneath the ship’s decks, in the subterranean world maintained by coal workers to ensure smooth sailing.

At a tender age, he confronts the tragic reality of his caretaker, whom he considered a parent, losing their life in an accident below the ship. Faced with administrative identity challenges and a caretaker who refused to send him to an orphanage, which was perceived as akin to a children’s prison, one of the crew members declares, “This child cannot go ashore or to the city.”

As he matures, he chooses to remain aboard the ship, perceiving land as a nebulous concept. Now working as a pianist and musician at bourgeois parties, he entertains VIP guests, many of whom label his music as jazz. He becomes appreciated by people from different social classes, spanning the lower to upper echelons. However, when it comes to jazz or its categorization, he dismisses genres, names, and labels, uttering “Fuck jazz” after winning a jazz piano duel against a well-known African American musician who considers himself the reigning king of jazz.

To him, the concept of land represents an endless road, devoid of boundaries, an enigma that fails to capture his interest or capabilities. He fears the discontentment of the land’s urban world, gleaned from conversations with ship passengers. It is a world he cannot easily grasp, a world that assigns names to music genres and turns music into a competition focused on greatness, speed, and technical prowess. A world where jazz intertwines with capitalist interests. In contrast, he perceives music as something entirely different. His ship is his world, a world with defined boundaries, where he is familiar with every nook and cranny. The piano becomes his medium for appreciating and exploring this world, pushing the boundaries of his music. He possesses a deep understanding of his audience and music enthusiasts.

‘THE LEGEND OF 1900’ is a captivating film that tells the tale of a gifted pianist, born and raised aboard a ship. The melodic piece ‘Playing Love’ resonates with the protagonist’s profound emotions towards a captivating woman. The film skillfully juxtaposes the purity of a white baby on the piano with the harsh realities of the ship’s world, jazz, blues, and the struggles of labor. The protagonist’s musical brilliance and rejection of genres and labels earn him admiration from individuals across different social strata. By choosing to remain aboard the ship, he symbolizes his fear of the unknown and his contentment within familiar confines. The piano becomes his instrument of exploration, allowing him to transcend musical boundaries and forge profound connections with his audience. ‘THE LEGEND OF 1900’ celebrates the universal language of music while delving into complex themes of identity, artistic passion, and the pursuit of a meaningful existence.


Novian Arif

Screenshot from ‘The Lengend of 1900’ movie

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