I have always been fascinated by the connection between music and memory. Last week the strength of that connection was really brought home to me when I heard some music that I hadn't heard for many years. I was driving along the freeway, listening to a classical radio station, when the haunting strains of Mahler's Piano Quartet in A minor began to play. As my brain started to make sense of the pattern of those first few notes, I was transported right back to the first time I heard Mahler's piano quartet. I could literally feel the sounds of the violin, then the cello, viola and piano, peeling back the layers of time, finding those memories buried somewhere in my brain and flooding my mind anew with the sights, sounds and feelings of over 20 years ago. There I was, a young impressionable university student, sitting outdoors on a balmy African evening after lectures, at a Johannesburg cafe with my university friends. We were sharing a jug of chianti and all talking passionately and animatedly about politics and philosophy while some classical music played in the background. The music changed and I remember so vividly stopping mid-conversation and listening ... and then thinking that it was the saddest and most beautiful piece of music I had ever heard! I was struck by the way it affected me and I asked if anyone knew what it was. Ari, my Jewish friend knew it was Gustav Mahler. He went on to explain to me that Mahler's music, along with another German composer, Wagner's, was played over the loudspeakers in the German concentration camps in WW2 and therefore not often enjoyed by Jewish people as it was accompanied by far too many painful memories. As I listened then to the masterful interweaving of the instruments as that amazing music rose and fell, I could almost feel the sadness and the inhumanity of those camps and I knew that I would never again listen to that music without thinking of Ari's words.
Later last week, in one of those strange coincidences that sometimes crop up, I heard that haunting music again as I sat in a movie theatre and watched the psychological thriller, "Shutter Island". The same piano quartet I first heard all those years ago was used to create a tangible sense of dread throughout the film, again with heavy connections to the concentration camp at Dachau, Germany.
Music affects us so deeply. It is such an important part of so many of our memories, tied up in that which we would remember - and in that which we would rather forget.
You can listen to a clip of Quarto Quartet performing Gustav Mahler's Piano Quartet in A minor ~ absolutely beautiful! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jyf64r4KvaI