Sunday, 4 March 2012

If Music be the Food of Love

It has always intrigued me how music can manipulate the emotions.  Sometimes having a euphoric and happiness inducing affect.  Occasionally an exhilarating and uplifting one, and on other occasions inducing sadness and tears. 

My mother, a completely unsentimental woman could not bear to listen in company to a boy soprano or a group of young trebles, for fear we would see her tears and laugh at her.

Some very high coleratura voices, particularly when singing Richard Strauss, have the same affect on me, and I find myself shaking and almost at screaming point.

This is the physical reaction to certain sounds and pitches and is, I think, a separate thing from the result of listening to an immensely moving piece of music.

Last week, our choir at St. Mary's sang "Wash me throughly" which has, to my delight, an alto line which is lower - considerably - than the bass line.  I sang a bottom D and loved it.

Today we sang "Solus ad Victimam" by Kenneth Leighton.

For anyone who doesn't know it, it is the story of Christ's journey to the cross.  Not the most cheerful piece in the repertoire of the Anglican church, but sung really well, and it was this morning, it should and did have a quite spine-tingling affect on anyone who really listens. 

To my surprise (and consternation) I found myself choking on tears and fighting to sing the last magnificent phrases.

What a privilege it is to have good hearing and to enjoy the great blessing of listening to music.


  1. I do wish I was more musical. I do enjoy music but don't quite get the response of tears or shaking that some people get. I can get goosebumps or be reduced to tears when I hear or read poetry though:)

  2. I'm with you all the way on the emotional response to music, Ray. Some pieces reduce me to tears too and others give me goosebumps. Unfortunately, my increasingly bad hissing tinnitus does take the edge off listening to quiet music, which saddens me. I wish I could have heard your choir this morning.

  3. I wish I could have heard it, too! I am also one who can be moved to tears or experience goosebumps. There are a couple of hymns I just cannot make it through without choking up - O Sacred Head Sore Wounded being one and the other a contemporary hymn The Summons. That last one we sang at the campus church service the day we dropped our son off at college. When I got to the part about "never be the same," I lost it. And I still do, four years later.

  4. Different receptors in the brain perhaps Sue? Poetry used to move me when I was young but these days cynicism has taken over from romance and I prefer Ogden Nash to Keats though I still love The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

  5. As you say Theanne Amen indeed. I just need to be grateful more often.

  6. I'm so sorry about your tinnitus Perpetua, is it a permanent condition or does it come and go? It must spoil so many things for you.

    I wish you could have heard us too. We are not always that good but for once there was a really good turnout and we were well rehearsed.

    1. It's constant, Ray, and is getting more noticeable as time goes on. Basically I'm hearing my own circulation as the auditory nerves have somehow become attuned to the sound of the blood going through the veins near the ears. Most of the time I can manage to ignore it more or less, but it does mean that there is no such thing as complete silence for me any more. But I can still hear, and that's what's important.

  7. Oh yes Penny. I know what you mean about "Oh sacred head". It is of course part of The Matthew Passion and it has of course the same Easter connection as the two I mentioned.
    From what you say about the other one "The summons" I suspect that it too is partly because of the link the brain makes between an occasion and the music.
    The more I think about it the more convinced I am that it is a different response from the one where a particular sound (especially the human voice) causes an extreme reaction.

  8. There are parts of Rossini's 'Stabat Mater' which affect me very emotionally at this time of year. I so wish I had a decent enough singing voice to be in a choir or choral union, but at least I have a very good ear and can appreciate what I hear! The slow movement of Beethoven's piano concerto number 5 is the most profoundly emotional music to me -- it always stops me in my tracks...

  9. Hi Broad. I do like some parts of the Stabat Mater, though not the whole work. I particularly love "Cujus Animan Genementam" probably misspelt but I'm sure you will know the aria I mean.
    A lot of piano music touches me when nothing else can, in particular, some of the Chopin etudes.
    There is so much music and life is so short we hear only a tiny proportion in our lifetimes, but what huge significance it can have.