Melancholia and Depression with Ellington, Brahms, Chopin and Baudelaire

I’ve been writing a lot about depression this month. After all, I’m on vacation, and what could be a more refreshing topic? Surprisingly enough, I came on the vacation–in the Hudson Valley north of New York City–for the month of June with my wife to do nothing but write.

So first I need to apologize to my fellow bloggers and commentators who follow the Musical Almanac. After April’s A-Z challenges and posting twice a week for several years I needed a break. Then I need to explain why I’m choosing to write about depression.

In 2012, my best friend of 35 years, died of a brain tumor. My dad died in the Fall of 2011 following mom who passed in 2008. They were 96 and 92 respectively, and though it was a big loss, we knew it was coming so it wasn’t a shock. David’s death, on the other hand, came completely out of the blue. My wife and I had spent a week with him in Rome in August of 2010 for our honeymoon. His partner of some 30 years, Gianfraco, hailed from Ischia off the coast of Naples, Italy, and as a present, he let us stay in his apartment in his villa on the island in his mountainside home town of Buonapane overlooking the Mediterranean.

We saw David through the fall of 2010 and had dinner at him apartment in DC, in February. About a month later, one of our mutual friends who worked with David, called to say David was in the hospital and had just undergone a brainscan which revealed an egg-sized tumor deep in his brain. It was inoperable, chemo was brutal and ineffective, and he died 8 months later.

In grad school where we met, we became fast friends, sharing a love of languages, food, classical and world music. He graduated in 1979 and got a job at the university of Algiers teaching English. He sent word that he could get me a job in Algeria, too. So I joined him. From there I moved to Naples, Italy and was able to find him a position at the university there. He met Gianfranco in Naples and I met Judy, and we all returned to the States in the early 1980 to go back to college. I left with another masters and moved to the DC area first and got him a job at the University of Maryland. We were close for years and he was a good uncle to my two daughters. A gourmet cook and avid pickler, we alway loved going to his house for dinner, drinking wonderful wine, and listening to some new piece of music he had discovered. His musical tastes were eclectic and he introduced me to Bruckner, Ives, Ute Lemper, Neapolitan music, and West African Grillo music.

When he died, I was lost. He was my best and oldest male friend. At work, people commiserated but not in the way one does when a parent dies. But David was as close as any sibling or parent, and he left a hole in me. That started on down the path to another depressive episode, which lasted for almost two years.

So I’ve come on this writer’s vacation to begin writing a book about how I made it through those two years and what finally brought me out.

So today, I’m posting some pieces that bring up melancholic thoughts, or ones which I used to listen to when I was depressed. Please let me know what you think. I don’t really want to bum anyone out, but I want to share with people my struggle with depression to show that it can strike anyone and there are quite effective methods to fight it. There is so much stigma about depression, that I know many people don’t seek help when it strikes. Men are especially susceptible to those thoughts as we think that talking about our emotions is a sign of weakness. Well, I’m ready to talk and I hope it helps some people get the help they need to conquer what the french poet Charles Baudelaire called “Le Cafard,” (The Cockroach) as you can hear in this poem, “La Destruction”:

(Speaking about a Demon)
« Parfois il prend, sachant mon grand amour de l’Art,
La forme de la plus séduisante des femmes,
Et, sous de spécieux prétextes de cafard,
Accoutume ma lèvre à des philtres infâmes. »

Finally, I have to play the second movement of Brahm’s Violin Concerto. I discovered it in high school, when, a face full of acne, voice cracking, and awkward romantically around girls, I used to get the blues quite a bit. I would drown my sorrow listening to this piece repeatedly while knocking back shots of tequila and calling random numbers on the phone in the hopes I could find a sympathetic soul to talk to.


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.)

11 Responses to Melancholia and Depression with Ellington, Brahms, Chopin and Baudelaire

  1. Hi Kurt, I am sorry not to have sent you a comment for such a long time, but I have remained a regular reader of your fabulous blog. I was so sorry to hear about the loss of your friend and your father, and of course very interested to learn about how you have been exploring your grief through music. One of the reasons why I have not been able to engage with the blogging world very much until recently is that I have had some mental health problems over the last six months or so and I can empathise with the power of music to accompany different moods/states etc. I think this can be both a hinderance and a help – sometimes familiar music offers a comfort blanket, a welcome reminder of times gone by. Other times, a particular piece can create a false, past reality which does not help us to move forward.

    Your musical choices are, as ever, spot on. The Brahms for me in particular has resonance as it is a piece I have played in the past – such agonies, both in the execution and the listening!!

    I would offer, given that you invite suggestions, the fourth movement of Mahler’s fifth symphony (adagietto) as another piece of music laden with emotion, tension and grief. I think this would be the case even if it had not been used for the film Death in Venice.

    Good luck with your project, and I hope you and your wife continue to have an enjoyable vacation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • kurtnemes says:

      Dear Leapingtracks. Thank you for your generous compliments and having the courage to share what’s going on with you. I agree with you that music can take you up or down or into uncomfortable memories. With depression, many people try, like I did, with alcohol, to self medicate. That’s nothing but trouble in the long run as the underlying cause never gets addressed. I hope you are seeking health. Last fall I went to a psychiatrist and with that and talk therapy and study and practice, I was able to get better. I can share some of the resources with you would like. Take good care.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. kvennarad says:

    Thanks for the musical picks. They were just what I needed, having discovered yesterday that the entire Patrice Chereau / Pierre Boulez presentation of Wagner’s ‘Der Ring Des Niebelungen’ is on YouTube, and having started to watch it obsessively.

    Liked by 1 person

    • kurtnemes says:

      Oh. Send me the link!


      • kvennarad says:

        Here we are:
        The whole Cycle is now on YouTube. I originally saw it on TV, years ago, and it blew me away. Once you get your head round the concept, it’s hard to fault, and the singing is superb. Heinz Zednik just OWNS the role of Loge!


      • kurtnemes says:

        I love the opening music of Das Rheingold and the hackney “Ride of the Walkyries,” was a favorite in high school until I saw Apocalypse Now. Thanks

        Liked by 1 person

      • kvennarad says:

        Well, when you get to act 3 of ‘Die Wallküre’, you’ll find that Pierre Boulez directs it perfectly. Unfortunately that scene was, for me, the only niggle I had about the Chereau production – Valkyries hauling men’s bodies around like so many sacks of coal!

        Forget ‘Apocalypse Now’ – Wagner’s ‘Ride’ is still the most incredible musical evocation of flight ever composed.


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