Music has always been a part of human culture and, for many people, it means part of their life (and I’m not simply referring to the fact that there are many beautiful professions associated to music). As my Professor of Music and Cinema in Contemporary French Culture would say, music is nowadays a cultural form, diffused everywhere and accessible to just about anyone. And for most of us, listening to music is something we have incorporated to our daily lives to such extent that we wouldn’t be able to function well if suddenly all our accesses to music were cut (do you think you would be able to survive without music?).
But music isn’t also all about fun and making that boring subway trip a little more enjoyable. It has been demonstrated that certain types of music (such as what we nowadays call “Classical music”) actually possess soothing and therapeutic properties, and can actually boost the listener’s concentration, inspiration and long-term memory.
While I myself prefer complete silence when studying, I can never say no to Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony or a Ketèlbey CD when I’m trying to paint or simply need a break from reading and studying. With this article, I’d like to introduce you to some of my favourite Classical pieces, for you to listen whenever you’re feeling too stressed out and need to take a break. Relax and enjoy!
Nocturne, Op. 9 No. 2
This piece, composed by Chopin when he was about 20 years old and usually played exclusively on piano, is currently regarded as Chopin’s most famous composition and is undoubtedly one of the most soothing and relaxing Classical pieces ever. The Op. 9 No. 2, belongs to a set of three “nocturnes” (Opus 9), that were written between 1830 and 1832 and dedicated to the composer’s friend and fellow pianist Marie Pleyel.
Particularly, the melody of this piece is actually quite simple, based on a rhythm that repeats itself three times, becoming more varied and ornamented every time it is repeated. However, this doesn’t alter the piece’s calming properties. Whenever I listen to this piece, I instantly imagine a warm, clear night, and picture myself laying on a grassy meadow, looking at the full moon and at the sky spangled with stars, and I forget about all my troubles and worries. Why don’t you give it a try as well?
This piece belongs to the fourth act of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg’s scenic music Peer Gynt, written in 1875, which was in turn based in a homonymous play written by the Norwegian poet and playwright Henrik Ibsen in 1867. The plot of Peer Gynt is basically the narration of the title character’s (Peer Gynt) adventures: his flamboyant and insolent attitude, his amorous exploits, his encounter with trolls, his departure to Africa and the subsequent misadventures that befall him there, his return to his native country many years later, where his lover still awaits him faithfully… Precisely, the piece Morning Mood is situated in a moment of the story in which Peer awakes during the sunrise in a Moroccan desert and discovers that his travelling companions have abandoned him there and stolen all his possessions.
While the music succeeds in calling to mind the rising of the sun, slowly spreading its light on the land, I don’t really believe that it achieves the evocation of the fright Peer possibly had when he found himself all alone and stranded in a strange place, however… The music is simply too beautiful and relaxing! Don’t believe me? Here’s the link for you to listen and check for yourself:
The Hebrides is a concert overture originally composed by German composer and musician Felix Mendelssohn in 1830, but only published and interpreted for the first time in 1833. The piece was inspired by a trip Mendelssohn made to Fingal’s Cave in the homonymous Scottish islands, and dedicated to the Prussian Crown Prince, who would one day rule as King Frederick William IV. Thirteen years later, on the 49th birthday of the King, another homage would be made to him: the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, born in 1844, got his name after him. But let’s get back to the song. Contrary to most overtures, The Hebrides doesn’t precede nor a symphony nor an opera; it takes the role of a complete work of its own, and can be found in many Classical music discs and even in YouTube. My favourite version of The Hebrides can be appreciated in the following link:
What do you think about this piece? What do you imagine when you listen to it? Next time you’re feeling stressed about something, listen to this overture and picture yourself in a small rowboat, approaching Fingal’s Cave, as more and more of its intricate design of basalt columns come into view and you become more acquainted with this magnificent natural monument… just type Fingal’s Cave into a browser and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Bells Across the Meadows
This piece was written by British composer Albert Ketèlbey, published in 1921 and recorded for the first time the following year. Even though Ketèlbey himself added lyrics to the music about five years later, in 1927, most recordings of the melody are just instrumental. The piece begins with a soft chiming of bells, and then a soft, soothing melody starts to play, with which the bells’ ringing starts to merge as it progresses. While certain scholars debate whether Ketèlbey drew inspiration from a childhood memory of the sound of the bells of Aston Parrish Church, located in Birmingham, England for Bells Across the Meadows; most experts believe that what actually inspired the composer to write this piece was a trip to the Maltese island of Gozo: they say that one quiet evening, the composer suddenly heard the bells of the church of Ta’Pinu ringing, and became so moved by the sound that he began to work right away at a tribute for those angelical bells.
This is possibly my favorite piece of Albert Ketèlbey. It’s almost impossible not to imagine yourself in a green meadow, lying down on the soft grass, while the wind brings you the soft and joyous melody of the bells of a distant church. Click on this link and let peace and mindfulness engulf you!
Beautiful, isn’t it? However, if you’re interested in more delightful and relaxing pieces of Ketèlbey, there are many others you can listen to, such as In a Monastery Garden (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVCvE6DW98s); Sanctuary of the Heart (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FG-lTzSJrQw) and The Phantom Melody (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QC334zshyZA). Why don’t you give them a shot next time you take a break from studying or tossing and turning in your bed without falling asleep? They’ll surely help you relax and let go of anxious thoughts.
Did you enjoy these pieces? Is there any other you would like to recommend to us? What kind of music do you prefer listening to when you’re trying to give your mind a break from school/work/uni/other issues? Feel free to share your opinions with us in the comment section!
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