music, Writing

Breaking up is hard to do (without music)

Picture the scene.

It’s late at night, maybe even early in the morning, technically. A young woman (great hair) is sitting on the bleachers of an open-sided auditorium. A young man (handsome) sits lower down the tier, deferring the words he needs to say, hands clasped together. Apologetic.

The air heaves with moisture and the smell of flecked pine. Cicadas chirrup in stereo, and distant bursts of adolescent laughter punctuate the otherwise silent theatre.

The girl is saying all the right things in reply, but she isn’t really listening, preferring to go through the motions.

“I’m grateful for our time together. We’ve both made mistakes. I don’t regret anything.”

She’s fighting back tears. As he kisses her goodbye for the last time, a singular thought enters her head:

This breakup would be so much better if it came with a banging soundtrack.

Here are my top five contemporary classical tracks to accompany the most painful moments of your life:

#1 The so devastating you puke both lungs out of your mouth from crying Breakup

I can’t listen to this track without feeling… whatever it is the sound of layered, open-chord strings trigger in your brain to make you start blubbing like a pathetic worm. Is it the sustained harmonies? The relentless repetition of the same slow violin melody? The second violin with the plaintive, soaring tune that sounds almost… hopeful? Like they might change their mind? PLS DON’T LEAVE ME. YOU CAN KEEP MY UNTHANKS VINYL, I CAN GET ANOTHER. I also love/hate how this track ends in a minor key, like Richter was thinking, ‘yeah, suck it nerds, this story doesn’t end happily.’ Ok.

#2 The thank god that dumpster fire is out of my life, I am now free Breakup

I mostly listen to Steve Reich records when I’m a) on a plane, b) on a train, c) hungover. I love his Clapping Music because it’s essentially cleverly coordinated applause, and when you finally end things with someone who quite honestly needed to gtfo of your life, what’s better than a group of people giving you a standing ovation as you high-five into this shiny new phase of your existence? Nothing, that’s what! Now you can go back to watching Bake Off in your egg-stained joggers like all those other solo sailors. Get yourself a six-pack of Red Stripe and crack on, pal. Clap clap clap, clap clap etc.

#3 The Breakup that only lasts, like, five days

The Ross and Rachel of contemporary classical breakup anthems. It’s a new one from Ólafur Arnalds called ‘momentary’, with a trendy small ‘m’ like Ariana Grande also did on her new album ‘sweetener’. I love Ariana Grande. She seems like she’d be so generous on a night out, getting the trays of sambuca in like a proper ledge.

Anyway, momentary pauses in relationships are something I don’t get, because to be quite honest if someone has the audacity to break up with me, they don’t get a second chance (ask my… [redacted number of] exes). This is probably why I’m single. I’m cold and unforgiving, like an industrial freezer. Whatever. Listen to this whole album, it’s great.

#4 The inevitable but nonetheless sad for practical reasons Breakup

You know the one. Maybe you’ve been together a year, two years. It’s not particularly exciting anymore. The spark has long fizzled, like flat Fanta. It’s all gone a bit crusty around the rim. You look at them watching the football one Saturday and think, hmm, didn’t really notice that weird way they exhale. Then you realise if you break up you’ll have to start paying 50% more rent, and wonder if the irritating breathing is a permanent thing. Maybe they just have a cat allergy? But then you remember you don’t have a cat. Just thirteen stone of bloke you want the heck out of your flat, which, yeah you’ll have to pay for, or get a roommate or something. Anyway. This track by the late Icelandic composer Jóhannsson is lovely. There’s a lot of sustain on the repeated piano track. Repetition, like the Groundhog hell of waking up to that numpty every single day. DUMP. HIM.

#5 The first term of university home bf/gf Breakup

This is one of my favourite pieces of contemporary classical music ever. It’s about flamingos. I remember listening to the whole soundtrack a lot in my first year of university when I got Spotify and stopped updating my iPod Shuffle with Blink-182 albums because I was an ~adult now. This track – with its sweet, sweet harp mimicking the migratory patterns of chill pink birds – is reminiscent of those lumbering relationships you have as an eighteen-year-old starting out in a new city, far from home. It’s the first time you feel like a proper grown up, drinking pints of stout in an old man pub and attempting to make small talk with people called Minty and Monty who wear musty tweed and sound like they’re from the 1860s. You actually kind of fancy Minty/Monty in an obscure way, so you Skype your girlfriend/boyfriend back home and break the news to them as kindly as possible. In second year, you make the mistake of moving in with Minty/Monty and realise how crippling their Daddy/Mummy issues are and wonder if you even really need a degree???