Giuseppe Verdi: “Triumphal March from Aida”

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It still astounds me to realize how many pieces of classical music have been used to flog products. While searching through music news groups recently, somebody asked the question, “Do you know which piece of music is used in the Buick Century commercial?” Someone answered almost instantly: “Lalo: Symphonie Espagnole.5th movt.”

Psychological research on memory and learning tells us that people remember better when we involve more than one of the senses while learning something new. The theory states that you thereby “hang” the memory on more than one hook and that makes it easier to find for later retrieval. Thus, it would make sense to light a stick of incense, put on some great music, and sit in a comfy chair while studying for a test. School systems systematically ignore these findings and school kids today still sit in stony silence, wedged in chairs/desks that make the Iron Maiden seem like a Lazy Boy recliner.

The Portuguese Mateus Wine Company used the “Triumphal March” from Aida in the early 1970s to sell class. Mateus sold a rose wine in a bottle that looked like it was made of terra cotta, and the white was packaged to look like a bottle of Armagnac.

The commercial gives you, the viewer, the point of view of a middle-class couple opening the door to receive guest for a party. The music starts as the door opens out to reveal a ridiculously long arrow-straight sidewalk up to the front of the house (this is the suburbs, right?) Another couple walks toward the camera carrying a bottle of Mateus and present it to the hosts when they arrive at the door.

It’s quite a clever how Mateus uses the music to convey as sense of dignity to what probably turned out to be a 1970s wife-swapping party. In short they were selling a dream–that this crass, materialistic, anti-intellectual couple had class. No matter that alcoholism claims more lives and has shattered more homes than all the “illegal” drugs combined. Image is everything, after all. And alcohol is legal. As an adolescent, I loved the commercial. Later, as a college student, I followed its message and abused alcohol almost every chance I got. So it was quite an effective campaign, if you ask me.

In high school, my friends the M* family told me the source of the music. I dutifully trundled down to the library and checked out Aida and eventually went on to purchase it. It proved quite valuable later on when I went to college. My second year I transferred to a huge university (student population circa 33,000) that actually had high-rise dorms. My tower sat opposite another tower, which was our rival. Some nights, people in one dorm would throw open their windows and start shouting at the other dorm. This would escalate on both sides until almost everyone was involved. After about an hour of this, I would open my window, put the speakers of my stereo on the ledge and crank up the “Triumphal March.” Eventually the shouting would stop.

I used to flatter myself that playing this piece caused the end of these little outbreaks. In all honesty, though, the people probably just got bored (or hoarse) from all that yelling at each other and just stopped. Still, I like to think that I had a hand in bringing culture to my fellow drunks.

About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

7 Responses to Giuseppe Verdi: “Triumphal March from Aida”

  1. A nice rousing start to our sunday here in South India. Thank you, Kurt, as always! Carina 🙂


  2. Chopin, followed by Verdi, I do hope we have Mahler coming up next. These are the three composers with whom I am happiest spending time. Of course there are a whole lot of runners-up. It’s a very long list, but those three come out on top… maybe Beethoven should be in there too.

    Can I take issue with you on the psychological research (this was my field)? We do indeed remember better if we process information deeply. This means we need to hang it on hook that are already in our memory – preferably several. So take a chemical formula and notice that it reminds of the illustration in a children’s book you once loved. Or remember the smell of heather as you memorise Macbeth i.e. enrich the dry fact.

    But we have a very limited window of attention, so if we try to add several new bits of information at once, we can only process them lightly and so forget them all. Of course incense, some *background* music and a comfy chair could aid concentration. For myself, it is one of my sadnesses that I love music too much to have it on while I am writing, as it grabs my attention.


    • kurtnemes says:

      Thanks for the clarification. I’m not up on the latest brain research, so this is helpful. I used to teaching ESL and back in the 1970s, there was talk of a super way of learning the Russians had developed. Supposedly if you recited the lessons (math, language, chemistry) in a definite rhythm while playing Mozart or something like that, student had nearly instant memory with no effort. No doubt that morphed into Baby Einstein, which I recently heard was discredited. Makes more sense to hang it onto a pre-existing deep memory. All the best. Kurt


      • It’s a confusing and tricky area and there are still no definitive answers. You can find accessible explanations of the best recent research in Daniel Bor’s book on consciousness The Ravenous Brain. This is really good read – witty and warm and full of illustrations.


      • kurtnemes says:

        Thanks for the reference to Bor’s book. I’ll have to read it. I’ve been reading and thinking a lot lately about cognitive psychology and recent research that suggests we can rewire our brains. I work in the ethics office of a large organization where I do training in many countries on our code of conduct for our staff from all over the world. We have recently been influenced by the work of some ethics researchers who are tapping into cognitive psychology research which says you can train yourself to think differently or that seeing others do good thing has a physiological effect (maybe oxytocin related). We’ve been influenced by the work of Mary Gentile, Jonathan Haidt and Chris Adkins. One thing that I remembered his morning is reading somewhere either a psychologist or a philosopher who said that humans don’t have thoughts until they learn language. Do you know if that has been verified in research? I had this revelation that that might be the meaning behind the religious phrase, the word was made flesh. So, we can meditate, and have peak, flow experiences, but unless we have someone whispering in our ear, “be nice,” “be good,” “don’t hurt people,” “don’t kill,” etc. we really can’t develop a moral sense. Have you done any work on the development on morals or ethics? Thanks


      • What a fascinating area to work in! There was something on the radio last night about possible new medical applications for oxytocin use, it all sounds rather exciting (but so do most newer areas of research). I don’t know anything about the origins of the idea that humans lack pre-verbal thoughts, but it doesn’t make much sense to me. Dogs and chimps, for instance, have thoughts; they calculate, remember and search and many other behaviours that indicate thinking processes.
        Babies under a year are certainly capable of thought, but of course they already understand a lot of words even if they cannot yet use them. I guess the onus of imparting morality and ethics is on parents and the culture in which a child is reared, but I suspect that behavioural example is as efficacious as verbal instruction.
        I am interested in the development of morals and ethics, but I have done no work in that area. All human societies in all periods of history appear to have developed codes of conduct, so this would appear to be intrinsic to human social behaviour. Yet there are clearly circumstances, from the individual to the national level, in which these break down with horrific results. I read Michael Sandel’s Justice with interest a while ago – though it made my head spin a trifle.


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