Music, trauma and death …

Music associated with someone you’ve lost. Can you listen to it afterwards, and if so, how long does it take for you to brave the association and listen again to the music … as music? Or does it depend on the music? Is a great symphony or sonata, because of its innate artistic strength, more likely to survive these associations than a popular song or ballad? And what about using classic works at funerals (not necessarily a funeral where you’ve done the choosing)? Does the short-term funereal association taint the experience of later listening?

7 thoughts on “Music, trauma and death …

  1. At the age of 57 my concert Puanist and Piano Professor husband Raymond Banning was diagnosed with a rapidly progressing young onset dementia, he died aged just. 60 in 2012.
    Throughout the ravages of the disease as he lost the ability to carry out every day tasks and even to swallow unaided, he could still play the piano.
    We listened to music, the only language he still understood, we played duets just as we always, had, we attended Music for Memory, one of the few places we were accepted and valued,having also been a conductor he ‘conducted’ to the radio, as one by one his faculties left him and friends and family abandoned him all we had was each other and music, as he took his last breaths Claudio Aurrau played Chopin Nocturnes and Ballades on the stereo. Music
    I am a pianist. For me to even pick up a score and play was incredibly painful, to listen to Chopin even more so.
    Only now 2 years later can I go into the music room and find comfort from the notes to himself in his scores, they feel like messages from beyond.
    There is still music I cannot listen to, I have now begun to play Chopin again but I cannot listen to it in concert or on a cd it is just too evocative. Playing is somewhat different as you are involved with the physical process, it is a comfort now and a form of expression for which words could never suffice.


  2. Sue Black

    I was walking along a cold, pitch dark beach in freezing wind on the Grimsby coast. It was the 1960’s and a heady time in my life when i was being assaulted by one great work after the next for the first time. I was with my then boyfriend, a man who was to be one of the most important people to me over a period of more than 40 years. I was hanging on to him for grim death in the darkness with the sound of the North Sea crashing in my head. We were going to his grandmother’s beach house. We knew it would be empty, closed up for the winter, but we were hoping for a hot drink and something to eat. When we got there, the cupboard was bare. there was nothing for us. But the electricity was on and there was a gramaphone. The only record i remember there was one of Sibelius’ 2nd symphony, so we decided to play it and have a rest there. I had never heard it before, but my boyfriend, a music student, knew it well. As I listened, the North sea, the wind, the vastness of the ocean and nature all echoed ;the walk we had just had, even the darkness was there, at times in the music Every time I hear the work that experience and the man I shared it with, who is now lost, comes flooding back. It doesn’t make me sad. It makes me remember one of the best times we ever had. I think the reason for this is that as we listened, we were having a different experience of it: me for the first time, and he as a repeated experience. He didn’t share my shock and awe. I think he was aware of hunger and thirst, but I was oblivious to any sensation other than the music. I will forever associate that work with him, in a happy way..,


  3. Thank you so much Sue. Another shard of inspiration. I recall that when I was fourteen, listening on the record player late at night, the disc to hand was a sequence of Szymanowski Mazurkas played by Artur Rubinstein. First thing the next morning my mother entered my bedroom to tell me that my step-grandfather (who I’d thought of as my paternal grandfather up to that moment) had died in the night. He was very good to us. It was years before I could listen to those mazurkas again.


  4. David

    When taking the entry exam for Uni more years ago I heard a lied by Schumann I had never heard before, so rushed out to buy the CD on my last day of college, after we were liberated. I was particularly inspired by the song cycle ‘Frauenliebe und Leben’ – which I still adore despite the poems now being rather unfashionable, what with recent acutely feminist readings of these songs in most recent musicology.

    I was touched by the simplicity of the sounds, and the emotional linking of the words with the music – this was really the first time I’d looked at any song cycle in detail.

    It took on a far greater profundity for me because we heard the news that my Nan – who had been ill a long time – had passed away that day with my Dad by the bedside. But rather than making these pieces painful for me, it’s just added another layer to what is incredible music. A way perhaps to remember my Nan.

    I find it far harder to listen to music I associate with a time I felt truly happy or at peace in my life as the feeling of nostalgia – of not being able to return to that time or place – is overwhelming.


  5. Giancarlo Gemin

    I remember feeling terribly low after a realationship break-up and trying to counteract the mood by listening to Rossini’s the Barber of Seville, of all things. It was an utter disaster, and I stopped the turntable immediately.

    We need music that soothes us at times of need, and it is often melancholic music. That doesn’t mean I’m melancholic by nature, but it’s an important part of being human. I love melancholic music and I make no apologies for doing so.

    I can’t tell you the powerful association I have with the Lento from Dvorak’s op12 Quartet, but my God it goes straight to the solar plexus and makes me feel better.


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