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Moved to Tears

tearsMusic has the power to tug at the heartstrings, and evoking emotion is the main purpose of music – whether it’s joy or sadness, excitement or meditation. A certain melody or line of a song, a falling phrase, the delayed gratification of a resolved harmony – all these factors make music interesting, exciting, calming, pleasurable and moving.

Tears and chills – or “tingles” – on hearing music are a physiological response which activates the parasympathetic nervous system, as well as the reward-related brain regions of the brain. Studies have shown that around 25% of the population experience this reaction to music. But it’s much more than a pure physiological response. Classical music in particular steers a mysterious path through our senses, triggering unexpected and powerful emotional responses, which sometimes result in tears – and not just tears of sadness.

Tears flow spontaneously in response to a release of tension, perhaps at the end of a particularly engrossing performance. Certain pieces of music can remind us of past events, experiences and people, triggering memories and associated emotions. At other times, we may feel tearfully awestruck in the face of the greatness or sheer beauty of the music.

This last response has a name – Stendhal Syndrome – and while the syndrome is more commonly associated with art, it can be applied equally to the powerful emotional reaction which music provokes.

A psychosomatic disorder, Stendhal Syndrome, or hyperkulturemia, causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, sweating, disorientation, fainting, tears and confusion when someone is looking at artwork (or hearing a piece of music) with which he or she connects emotionally on a profound level. The phenomenon, also called ‘Florence Syndrome’, is named after the French author Marie-Henri Beyle , who wrote under the pen-name of ‘Stendhal’. While visiting the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence, he became overcome with emotion and noted his reactions:

“I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty … I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations … Everything spoke so vividly to my soul.”

While there is some debate as to whether the syndrome actually exists, there is no doubt that music (and art and literature) can have a very profound effect on our emotional responses.

Certain pieces are well-known tear-jerkers, including:

Mahler: Adagio from Symphony No. 9 in D

One of the most poignant farewells in music
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 9 in D Major – IV. Adagio – Sehr langsam und noch zuruckhaltend (Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra; Roger Norrington, cond.)

Schubert: Winterreise

Personal tragedy portrayed in hauntingly beautiful music

Elgar: Cello Concerto

Wistful soaring melodies and a sense of hope and anguish, particularly in the final movement, this is Elgar’s tragic masterpiece

Allegri: Miserere

Ethereal chords combined with plainchant, the exquisite simplicity and beauty of this music is guaranteed to set the tears flowing

Rachmaninoff: Slow movement, Piano Concerto No. 2

Put simply, this is sublimely beautiful music.

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Comments

  1. The Water Diviner – Ludovico Einaudi

    It’s a stunning classical piece that makes me emotional and as a result I find myself crying… It’s also so comforting in a way, I listen to it quite frequently.

  2. I have to laugh and cry….have been learning how to play Schumann’s – Kinderszenen Op. 15: No. 7, Traumerei… but by the time i’m up to the 8th or 9th measure I start crying. cathartic tears?

  3. Knowing the backstory of any song may help to immerse one’s self in its performance. “Unchained Melody” is one such tune, specifically the live television version performed by Bobby Hatfield (The Andy Williams Show, 1965, available on YouTube). Originally written in 1955 for a prison movie, the televised performance byMr. Hatfield, half of the singing duo “The Righteous Brothers,” is presented in practically flawless form.

  4. I’ve always found myself in tears after listening to Mozart’s Requiem, specifically the Introitus and Lacrimosa. Dear god, I weep like a child everytime.

  5. You know what’s interesting about music?…..whether a major or minor key, upbeat or melodic, oldie or current: songs affect people differently for certain personal reasons. Case in point, there is a song by Trans Siberia Orchestra titled Christmas Canon. Every ( and I mean every) time I listen to it, I will cry. I don’t mean sobbing my eyes out, but for me to get very emotional during that song I had a few tears will trickle down my cheeks and I get very melancholy and sad. I have no idea why. It might be the progression of the chords or the placements of the accents, or string violins hitting the interior of my soul in such a personal real way that it shatters my tough wall of independence and brings me down to a pile of mush next to the dust balls on the corner of my heart. Hard to say. But, I think I just said the reasons. Like I said, music is more than just a song: it’s a personal experience of time and memories. Some of those memories we’re not even aware that we hold on our minds until a song brings them out on such a real and truthful manner, forcing our hearts to swell up and our eyes to leak.

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