Music and Memories

Memories can be full of feelings – sometimes happy feelings, sometimes sad ones, sometimes in-between. Music is a great way to work through feelings. Lots of composers have done just that, by writing music about their own memories. Here are a few pieces of classical music that explore memories and nostalgia. Do any of them bring back memories to you? 

Remembering a Place

Photograph of Tchaikovsky courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Memory of a Dear Place, Op. 42 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

The Russian composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky wrote this music after a visit to his friend Nadezhda von Meck’s beautiful home. He was having a tough time because of a failed relationship, and his friend offered him a vacation at her home to give him some space and peace. Tchaikovsky was so grateful that he wrote this piece in 1878, and dedicated this music to “Brailov,” which was the name of Madame von Meck’s house. He called it “Memory of a Dear Place.” 

Remembering A Trip 

Drawing of Fanny Hensel by Wilhelm Hensel, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Travel Album by Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel

The German composer Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel wrote her “Travel Album” after a yearlong trip to Italy with her husband Wilhelm and little son. It was a very special trip for Fanny, because she had longed to visit Italy since she was a little girl! The “Travel Album” is full of music by Fanny and paintings by Wilhelm. All of it was inspired by the sights and sounds of their trip to Italy – just like you might make a photo album to remember a vacation. This piano piece is an exciting dance called Il Saltarello romano. Fanny Hensel was inspired to write it when she visited the city of Rome.

Remembering Home 

Photograph of Edvard Grieg courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“Homesickness” from Lyric Pieces, Op. 57, by Edvard Grieg

Homesickness can be one of the sadder kinds of memory. It’s hard to miss your home when you’re away – but homesickness also means that you’ve have a home that you love enough to miss, so it’s not all sad. The Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg captured the complicated feelings of homesickness in this little piano piece he wrote in the early 1890s. How does this music make you feel about the idea of home? 

Remembering Your Culture

Photograph of Fela Sowande courtesy of African American Registry

“Nostalgia” from African Suite by Fela Sowande

When he was young, the Nigerian composer Fela Sowande moved from Nigeria to England so he could attend music school. After graduating, he worked as a musician and composer in England for many years. Even though he lived outside of his home country of Nigeria, he still loved his home country and its culture. In 1953, Fela Sowande looked back on his time in England when he wrote his African Suite for orchestra. One section, or movement, is called “Nostalgia,” because it represented his nostalgia for his home culture. The composer described this music as “the nostalgic memories of ‘an African in England.’” 

Remembering Falling in Love

Image of Aleksandr Borodin courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“Nocturne” from String Quartet No. 2 in D Major by Aleksandr Borodin

Aleksander Borodin was a Russian composer and chemist. He had a very long and happy marriage to his wife Ekaterina. In 1881, when they had been married almost twenty years, Aleksander wrote this string quartet and dedicated it to Ekaterina. It was inspired by memories of the months when they first met and fell in love. This movement of the string quartet is called “Nocturne.” That means music for night time. The beautiful melody in this movement is first played on the cello, which is the instrument that Aleksandr played. Maybe that’s because he wanted his wife to know that he was playing this love song just for her!