Bartok, Berlioz, and breakups: classical music comes through in a pinch

Nice bangs bruh.

Bangs = mad chicks. I’ve got work to do.

This past weekend my relationship ended with the cosmic whimper of a thousand kittens getting curb-stomped, the end of the best and worst 6 1/2 years of my life. Breaking up is a process, and I imagine it could be long, tumultuous, and ugly depending on the hour, but in the early stages it’s almost exclusively about hearing songs that up until three days ago you just enjoyed and now can’t listen to without losing your shit (current example: “Who’s Lovin’ You?” by the Jackson 5, a brilliantly written song with young Michael at his apex as a singer that I skillfully ignored the lyrics to for years until now). I have no scientific evidence to back up this claim, but I suspect that breakup songs, in some form or another, constitute an even larger percentage of the musical lexicon than hookup songs, and now is the time for me to listen to “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” on loop and cry myself to sleep only to wake up the next morning and start in with “End of the Road” because I don’t have the emotional energy to stand up and remove this Boyz II Men Greatest Hits CD.

Thank God there’s classical music.

Classical music has a vehicle for you to channel everything you need channeled and then some. Need an outlet for the weepy sadness? The Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde‘s got your back. What about when you wig out and go through that obsessive “I’ve got to get her back at all costs” phase? Blaze that shit up motherfucker, because Berlioz has you covered with just the insane opium-fueled fever dream you need, complete with accompaniment for your own descent into madness. When you hit that righteous fury point where you blame all your problems on your ex, Bluebeard’s Castle empowers you to harbor thoughts of the most epic mid-life crisis of the last 100 years – entirely-too-big house, lots of jewelry (seriously, like a fucking ton of jewelry), a self-aggrandizing sense of your own importance that blows past the line of inhuman – and rage for a solid hour. Sibelius chips in with the Violin Concerto for the crippling bouts of loneliness. Mahler 8, in all its overstuffed glory, reminds you that chicks are awesome. And everything Bruckner wrote fills in two gaps: 1) you’re really fucking weird and no one else is ever going to love you and 2) it may not matter because the human condition is bigger than your feeble mind could possibly comprehend.

The history of classical music, especially in the Romantic period, is littered with tales of unrequited love, totally-requited love, betrayal, abject beauty, pain, suffering, and truth, and everybody’s got a story to tell. Some tell it better than others, though, and I have a suspicion that I’ll be going back to a forgotten well in the coming months.

It’s been quite some time since I listened to Mahler (I think the last time was the brilliant KC Symphony performance of the Sixth way back in January). Like any listener, I tend to go through phases where I plow through a particular composer or subgenre like a drunken frat boy, and Mahler’s been out of the loop for six months now. But if there’s anyone who can speak to the universal truth that is the end of a relationship, it’s a man who had his heart broken on more than one occasion and didn’t help his own cause by being an unrepentant dick.

So stay tuned. There’s a 30% chance that this space will soon feature a live blog of the complete Mahler symphonies that will contain 40,000 words, an entire bottle of bourbon, and the destruction of my fingerprints from the sheer repetition. God dammit all if I don’t have the time. And that’s what music is there for…to get you through the dark times and to embrace the light ones. Thanks for the support y’all.


35 thoughts on “Bartok, Berlioz, and breakups: classical music comes through in a pinch

  1. Longtime fan here. Allow me to be the first to say how sorry I am. And while I know it’s small consolation, this was a beautiful and powerful blog post. Wow, did this resonate with me.

    I’ve been where you are. I went through an unwanted divorce. As a classical music lover myself, I found tremendous solace in numerous pieces that I won’t list here.

    But I was surprised how much help I received from popular music. If it’s alright with you, I’ll name some good break-up songs that expressed my emotions, and helped me grieve. Maybe this can be some help to you. I know many others who said that listening to songs like this helped them handle the situation, and then move on:

    Jim Croce: Operator
    Abba: The Winner Takes It All
    Fleetwood Mac (or Stevie Nicks solo): Landslide
    Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind
    Cat Stevens: Wild World
    R.E.M.: Losing My Religion
    Adelle: Someone Like You
    Journey: Send Her My Love

    Concerning classical music, I found that certain pieces were both cathartic and transcendent. I remember the day I accepted the reality of my divorce (about 4 months after it was over). I listened to popular movements from Bach’s cantatas all day long and wept (“Wachet Auf,” “Sheep May Safely Graze,” “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring,” etc.). Other pieces that spoke to me in a brand new way (“this was written for me right now!”) are Debussy’s Clair de Lune, V-W’s The Lark Ascending, the 3rd movement of Mahler’s 4th, and the 2nd movements of Sibelius’s 1st and 2nd. (Of course, there are many slow movements that will work.)

    My best wishes to you. Much grace to you in your moving forward.

  2. Crank up the Bach. Organ, especially, or even the solo string pieces.
    You have my deepest sympathy.
    But six-and-a-half-years, you sure it’s really over?
    Been there, and survived. Somehow.

  3. I love classical music and during the months waiting for my first divorce to finalize was addicted to Bach, Schubert and Berlioz.. The horrendous agony I felt was suspended for brief moments by their music while I drank Scotch and burned trinkets and pictures. It will get better.

  4. If you like classical music and you’re going through a break up I would suggest listening to Emilie Autumn.

    Check out her other stuff while you’re there-Largo may be too slow for break up anger. She has music of her own like: Manic Depressive, Leech Jar, and my favorite A Strange Device. Emilie always makes me feel better.

  5. Sorry about the break up. :( But seriously, you’re HYSTERICAL. Finallllly someone talking about classical music with humor!

  6. Found you through FP. I do not know you well enough to say sorry or chin up or anything like that. But as a lover of classical music without any pretense of understanding any of its intricacies, I loved this post! I have a similar post about movies in drafts which still needs polishing, the quote that started me on that post was this:

    Quote from High Fidelity by Nick Hornby:
    “People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands – literally thousands – of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss. ”

    Music and bourbon (in my case, the biscuits not the whisky) will make everything better….
    – Kallu

  7. I loved your post. I am sorry it happened, and I know what it feels like. I love classical music as well! :)

  8. Found your post from FP. I’m sorry it happened. I listen to quite a bit of classical music, but I have to say that it’s not what I’d go to when I was broken hearted. Instead, I listened to “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor over and over again, and any other empowering songs, then I cranked up the volume with some Epic music/score, that anyone who happened to be within the vicinity would think that I was going to a battlefield or getting ready for a war. Anyway, I love your post :)

  9. My favorite is Dvorak’s New World Symphony, Night on Bald Mountain and Copeland”s Rodeo. I also am into John Williams who I believe is brilliant. I am glad you are showing healthy signs towards your breakup. But there will be good things in the future. If you get chance read Love with a Stamp. It is about how I met my wife. I think it might please you. Sincerely, Barry

  10. That Adagietto from Mahler’s 5th is justifiably one of the most famous classical breakup underscores. The main thing is to use music that either doesn’t have words, or that features singing in a language you don’t understand. Verdi and Puccini work that way for me. One of the most unexpected sources of balm turned out to be Elgar’s “Nimrod”, from the Enigma variations. To those who are UK natives, it evokes their history in a pastoral sweep, but for me it conveyed simultaneous regret and acceptance of inevitable change. It facilitated the process of forgiveness. Here’s hoping you heal soon.

  11. Great post and like no doubt many others who had read it, I feel you pain. As a writer/musician myself I have written numerous songs about ex-girlfriends mostly I think as part of therapy and the healing process. In your time of second guessing our own self-worth and wondering if you will be alone forever may I offer you a listen one of my own compositions to help add to your repetoire of songs that make you want to break down and cry. Enjoy my friend and chin up :)

  12. Love the expression on Bangs = mad chicks. I’ve got work to do picture! So fitting for this blog! Have a great day and I hope his expression changes soon!

  13. sorry to hear about the break up- but I loved your post. I would also suggest you listen to Glen Gould playing the Goldberg variations. Not the 1955 recording, its too fast, but the the 1981 version is so beautiful, it always makes me cry.

  14. So sorry about your break up but your post was clever and well written.

  15. Isn’t it amazing that there is music for everything – happiness, sadness, for celebrations, for mournings…you name it, you get it…music does heal so much. wish you well and strength and sorry to know about your break-up.. congratulations on being freshly pressed.
    ” And that’s what music is there for…to get you through the dark times and to embrace the light ones.” loved this!

  16. Yikes, that’s a hard blow after so many years. Glad you have the music on your side, and as you can see, there’s a lot of love in the room for your writing, too!

  17. I am so in agreement and am listening to this playlist as I type this, I often listen to classical music while in a bubble bath with candles all over……….so calming.

  18. Reblogged this on jessicaslavin and commented:
    Ahh, the universe responds with the humor I seek!

  19. So sorry to hear about the break up. Having been through a few (including a divorce) – music is what gets you through. I totally agree with an earlier comment – my theme song in those times has always been “I Will Survive”…

  20. What is FP that brought people here? I couldn’t locate it via searching. Is it another blog, a music website, etc.?

  21. Thanks for showing people that classical music still has a place in our everyday lives. …..oh and that stinks about your relationship. Time heals all.

  22. I so looove the idea of classical music as a soundtrack for the big breakup. Because all breakups are epic in their own way. Best. Freshly Pressed. Today. Yay!

  23. God bless classical music. As an opera singer I find it hard to bridge the gap between the music and real life, so I just entwine them and it makes life so much more beautiful. Mahler is dangerous music to listen to in a headspace but if you can survive it you can survive anything.
    Wagner is a king too,, I really hope it heals in some way. It’s something bigger than you and billowing and swelling around you.
    A bit more modern piece would be Ella Firsova, Leaving. It narrates many a breakup I can imagine.

  24. Reblogged this on Thoughts Saving Journal and commented:
    I admire the author behind this blog. Six years and a half relationship is too long to give up. I found strength to move on from this article. Music can really help someone to get over from a serious breakup.

  25. Barber’s Adagio for Strings should help you get really deep into that bottle of whiskey. It should all seem like up from where that will get you.

  26. I understand and am sorry for your pain but I enjoyed this slant it. I’d like to add Mumford & Sons’ ‘After The Storm’ to the mix. My ex actually posted it on his Facebook page after our ‘storm’ which is a bit annoying really because now I can’t listen to it without associating it with recent heartbreak. Nevertheless, a beautiful song.

  27. This is brilliant!

  28. Thank you all for the comments. I really appreciate it, and it’s been very nice to see the support from all over the place. Be well!

  29. Pingback: The Big Six: a stream-of-consciousness live blog of the famousest violin concerti | Everything But The Music

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  31. Terrific post. Thanks for sharing. I appreciate your authenticity and honesty. Not found fen enough on blogs.

  32. Pingback: Turn, Turn, Turn…to Beethoven 6 | Everything But The Music

  33. sad to catch wind of the split yet I cherished your post. I might additionally infer you listen to Glen Gould playing the Goldberg varieties. Not the 1955 recording, its too quick, however the 1981 variant is so lovely, it generally makes me holler.

    btw, you might want to consider to go to Grove Spot bar and restaurant in Coconut Grove Miami. meet new people and hear music like this,

  34. This comment is coming to you almost a year and half after it was originally posted. I just wanted to say sorry that you had to go through that after so many years of investment into your relationship and hopefully by this point, someone new is in your life. Anyhow, classical music is very helpful if not more than some of the garbage that is put out today.

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