Music, Time and Place


Now, here’s a question.

Has anyone got a piece of music that they strongly associate with a time in their life or a place, with happiness or sadness or some sort of significance? Also, has anyone got a piece of not particularly good music, or music that they otherwise wouldn’t have been drawn to but that has such significance in relation to a time or place that that consideration overrides all others?

Many passages in Shostakovich’s symphonies remind me of the back streets of Manchester.

In the days when I used to fall profoundly in love with particular people I tended (not by choice) to associate a passage of music with them, as Swann does with Vinteuil’s “little phrase”. The opening of Sibelius’s Symphony No. 6 and the lyrical theme for violin in Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1, for example (the women in question were both violists).

Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind is the piece I associate with my first really serious girlfriend (1978).

I never really liked Sibelius much till I visited Finland briefly after university, and bought a Sibelius tape in Helsinki to listen to on my Walkman. After visiting the lakes around the countryside, I decided to go on to see Ainola, Sibelius’s home. As I wandered in through the woods and saw the house while listening to his Symphony No. 5, his music suddenly made sense to me, and I realized that he is inseparable from the Finnish landscape. Whenever I hear Sibelius, visions of the Finnish countryside come into my mind, and I remember those halcyon days of my innocent youth.

Really, there are far too many pieces to list that remind me of times past, and people. I find it impossible to hear Elgar’s Violin Concerto without remembering a dear girlfriend who came into my life at the same time. I got to know both simultaneously. Now 26 years ago, but it never fails.


3 Responses to “Music, Time and Place”

  1. […] Original post by Robin Gosnall […]

  2. Good question. I have what I consider some odd matches.

    I will always associate the soundtrack to Schindler’s List with Muskoka, a part of Ontario famed for its beautiful deep fresh-water lakes, outcropping of pink Canadian shield and gorgeous cabins right on the water. I was there one summer when the CD was playing in my friend’s car and we listened to it as we drove into town for supplies and back, and I never lost that connection.

    Another vacation took me to Lake Huron. I was walking the beach, enjoying the most beautiful sunset. This is a big lake, one of the Greats, and there were a bunch of wind surfers gliding up and down… it was quite blustery I recall. I was listening to Franck’s Symphony in D minor on my Walkman (this is a few years ago!). I’ll always see that stunning view when I hear it now.

    I was overcome with wonderful emotions when I first conciously listened to Clair de Lune, and my mother later informed me that she’d played it constantly when she was expecting me. Terrence McNally’s wonderful play Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune was made into a movie and I loved the final scene (won’t ruin it for you) and the use of that music.

    The Intermezzo from Cavaleria rusticana always reminds me of a long walk with the Italian side of my family and resting under some fig trees, eating their sun-warmed fruit. There’s no particular reason for that, except the music brings to mind the heat and sunshine of Italy.

    Richard Tauber and the Boswell sisters always makes me think of Sunday morning breakfasts with my parents because that’s usually what would be playing and still does play (two of my dad’s favourites).

    Goldfinger sung by Shirley Bassey reminds me of long drives along the Bruce Peninsula and Live and Let Die (Wings) reminds me of how I tore up the highway in Death Valley one year, playing it, no cops or speed limits or any form of human habitation in sight.

    Sigh… good memories. Thank you for letting me share them.

  3. An excellent comment, Blog Princess G. Far more eloquent than my original post, in fact. I must (I will) post on music and memory again in future. For those of us who are deeply affected and preoccupied by music at a technical level and beyond it is an intriguing subject.

    Thank you.

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