Intermezzo in Modo Classico: A Musical Memory


An odd, rarely found little piece from Mussorgsky this week, but one with great significance to me. Two Christmasses ago I had the privilege of playing it as part of a concert with my youth orchestra, of which I am still a part for the remainder of the academic year.

This week, I wanted to talk about how music can evoke certain memories or feelings, and for me this piece is a prime example of that. It's a very short piece with some very simple ideas happening in it, but I think it sounds just Christmassy enough to remind you of Christmas if you want it to (do you hear what I mean in the music below? This recording is especially old and sounds even more nostalgic, but it's the only one I could find on Spotify that wasn't for piano, as this piece originally was - as was one of Mussorgsky's most famous works, 'Pictures and an Exhibition').

As there are many simple melody lines here, it's relatively easy to pick them out as a listener, and as I play the cello, perhaps it's even easier for me to pick out that line. I always admire compositions that are very simple but stay with you - and are maybe even 'catchy', as that's a sign of very clever, almost psychological melody writing. So, listening to this again now, two years later, I am able to almost instantly be transported back to a time in which I was playing this piece.

Why is that? I'd argue it's to do with association in the brain - perhaps my brain has associated the musical content of this piece with the memory of where I was when I played it and how I played it. That, in turn, brings back other feelings I had around the time of playing it. I remember distinctly that I was in my first year of university and had come back to Sheffield to play with the orchestra. It distinctly reminds me of the feeling of first properly coming home and meeting familiar people in a familiar environment.

So I'd say that my musical insight this week is twofold - an appreciation for pieces which, in their musical make up, are memorable in more than just a purely musical sense and an appreciation for how music in general can be so closely linked to certain memories and emotions. I think it would be interesting to hear from anyone reading this as to whether or not they have any particular pieces of music that have a similar effect on them - so do feel free to comment on here if you want to!

Benjamin Jackson