John Lennon und Yoko Ono, Bed-in for peace, Amsterdam

Music and love

Caution! There are lots of opportunities here for you to put your foot in it! Literally one around every corner. Our subject is love and music. Music and love.

Is one possible without the other? Doesn't everyone start to hum at some point when they're in love? Because they're happy, because their feelings overwhelm them… And when they fall out of love, then it's really time for music: what wonderful songs have been inspired by this pain that spreads throughout the body!

And that's where we come to putting your foot in it. In the full flush of love, things happen that aren't so good at all, viewed (or heard) in the cold light of day. Bombast, excessive behaviour, pathos, ecstasy – we've all been there. But if you're in the right frame of mind, it pierces your heart. And that's probably the reason why love songs are so popular – and why they have been around for so long.

Unrequited love

If we take a closer look, it's often love that prompts people to compose music. That was the case centuries ago, when the  troubadours in the south of France sang of their love for a lady who was generally of noble birth, and married into the bargain. The singers never imagined that their love would be requited. One new feature was that the texts of the troubadours'  songs were set in the vernacular, and not in Latin. Morover, most of the singers on the streets of Provence were actually poor and humble souls who nonetheless had the chutzpa to sing about unattainable women – and in a language that everybody understood!

The music of the troubadours

The troubadours established a tradition that exists to this day, and had a noticeable influence on French society: Paris, the city of love; the French language, Serge Gainsbourg, Georges Brassens, Edith Piaf, chansons, éclairs, champagne, pommes d’amour, the millions of heart-shaped padlocks in the railings of the Pont des Arts. Oh là là!

The whole subject drips with clichés, no two ways about it. Luckily there are artists like Albin de la Simone and Pomme, who liberate the chanson from some of the sugary clichés and still sing about love as the troubadours intended.


But why sing at all? What precisely is the mysterious connection between love and music that has prompted even the 2023 International Music Festival to take that as its motto?

It's like this: whenever someone feels passion and physical attraction, the body releases serotonin and other hormones, the so-called »feel-good« substances that it can produce itself. And music apparently intensifies this hormone production. In addition, music is capable of anchoring emotions we have experienced in our memory, and thus actually amplify these thoughts.

The moment, for instance, when someone at a party shouts »This is OUR song!«, and pulls someone else on to the dancefloor with him to immerse themselves in special memories: nice feelings reloaded.

Moved to tears

But does it still work with serotonin and our memory when there is no text? Can purely instrumental music trigger the same feelings? Of course it can!

After all, it's only a very few listeners who really understand and follow the lyrics being sung. It's the music itself that makes the difference, and can even move the listener to tears.

Which brings us to the next question: does the songwriter himself cry while he is working? Well, that's a personal  matter that has nothing to do with musical talent, so there is obviously no reliable data. But there are signs in some classical works in particular that a certain passage didn't leave the composer unmoved.

Mozart, for example, wrote the name »Constanze«  above a diminished chord in a sonata movement only completed and published after his death, while one bar before that the name »Sophie« appears over the minor chord with a suspended second.  Who was Sophie? – His future wife's sister, whom Mozart  would really much rather have married.

Robert Schumann, in turn, wrote the initials of the woman he was engaged to for a little while into his very early piano cycle »Carnaval« at several places. Later on, the first letters of the name Clara Wieck miraculously turned up, whose nickname »Chiarina« that Schumann gave her also served as the title of one of these miniatures.

Robert Schumann's »Chiarina«

Alexander Scriabin, on the other hand, wanted to be on the safe side, and added expression marks to his score that describe his frame of mind unequivocally and remarkably precisely to the interpreter. »Languishing«, or »with desire« are examples, »with delight and tenderness« or even »with thrilling violence«.

See for yourself  which of these moods appeals to you: at the concerts of 11 and 12 May 2023, the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra and titular organist Iveta Apkalna perform Scriabin's »La poème de l’extase« under conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen.

And now, to make sure we've exploited every single opportunity to put our proverbial foot in it, this little overview of the magical connection between love and music ends with a ranking, admittedly pretty arbitrary, of the absolute power couples in the history of music. Enjoy!

Power couples in the history of music

Tristan und Isolde

Tristan & Isolde

The king's daughter and the young knight who were united by a love potion – much to their parents' chagrin. The story of Tristan and Isolde has inspired some of the finest works of music; famous operas have been written about them, and a chord has even been named after them.

John Lennon und Yoko Ono, Bed-in for peace, Amsterdam

John Lennon & Yoko Ono

The man who founded the Beatles and the Japanese artist who led a glamorous and very public life, and also experimented with music a lot together.

Clara and Robert Schumann

Robert & Clara Schumann

One of the very great artist marriages in music history, in which husband and wife acted and worked with a surprising amount of independence for the standards of the time.

Johannes Brahms 1866

Clara Schumann & Johannes Brahms

Whether they were really lovers or not, they were bound by deep mutual affection. Their relationship was to remain the sole love of Brahms's life.

Al Bano & Romina Power

After the tragic mysterious disappearance of their daughter, they took a longer break and even got divorced. But the Italo-pop duo has been performing together again since 2013. Felicità!

Orpheus geleitet Eurydike aus der Unterwelt: Ölgemälde von Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1861)

Orpheus & Eurydike

Even demigods and Muses can fall in love with one another. But in this case, the loveliest singing is no help at all if their desire is too strong and they fail to heed the strict rules that apply to them.

Serge Gainsbourg & Jane Birkin

»Je t’aime … moi non plus«, the actress breathed into the mike – so lascivious and erotic-sounding that many radio stations refused to play the song. Gainsbourg and Birkin were a couple for 13 years; after they separated, only the song remained.

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