Tears from Nimrod

January 12, 2011

For a break I decided to watch “Pirate Radio” tonight– a warm and zany movie.

THEN — that sneaky music supervisor — they used the Nimrod variation from Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” and like a 1930s cartoon, tears burst out of my eyes with every phrase.

Why do I get so profoundly moved from this grandiose chord progression? Is it the perpetually falling bass line? Or my hopelessly anglo roots? Or my nerd-ball love of great voice leading? Or is this variation an orgasmic musical moebius strip?

Let’s hear Colin Davis conduct it:

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

PK January 13, 2011 at 12:46 pm

What a beautiful performance/recording! I too, harbo(u)r a great sentimentality for some imagined British past, pastoral and grand. But when I catch myself at it I usually lie down until it goes away!

But if you imagine yourself a non-muso watcher of the film (unfortunately today, one can bet safely that most such watchers, if they have heard it before it was also “unconsciously”), you start with the emotional directing of the narrative, the images perhaps including human faces we unconsciously read as sad… add the slow tempo, the preponderance of falling pitch phrases (both strong markers of sad) set against a mostly major mode and the bittersweet courage and yearning of the repeatedly thwarted, but steady attempts of upward pitch motions, embodying the sisyphean dignity… add the SWELLING volume, a swelling breast, emotion like the sobs that want to burst out… music reflecting, as Susanne Langer so so well said “the morphology of feeling” (1942 p. 238)… the panic we unconsciously experience as something (visually or aurally) “looms” towards us (our fight or flight system calculates – how far is it going to come, am I losing control, should I run?)… and THAT… is media-music magic. I love it! Yet it is different without the narrative set-up and visuals, related, but different. Perhaps music by its self is an even deeper mystery then media-music.

I haven’t seen it yet (Pirate Radio), but I am looking forward to it. I am glad you are a surprised movie cryer like I often am.

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