Love, Attachment, and Music: From the 16th Century to the 21st

Music often helps us understand our own emotions and commiserate with each other about feelings we’ve all felt before, both good and bad. Much music exerts energy on describing close interpersonal relationships, and that has always been popular subject matter. To that end, we see secular music of hundreds of years ago exploring the pains and joys of love, just like much of our current popular music.

The pain and joy of love is explored in Mitski’s “First Love/Late Spring”, which describes the overwhelming emotion and attachment tied to the act of newly falling in love. She croons: “one word from you and I would jump off of the ledge I’m on”, a lyric that encapsulates the immense power love has over her. Further, she asks her lover not to tell her to jump off of a ledge so she “can crawl back in” with him. She simply cannot imagine ever leaving him.

The musical texture of the song is homophonic, with voice accompanied by synthesizer, electric guitar, bass guitar, and drums. It is a luscious, romantic setting of sound. The song begins with a bass guitar strumming in a one-two one-two-three pattern. The pitch aligned with this bass rhythm parallels the upward motion of the voice in the opening passage, in which she is describing the sweetness that comes to her as she stays with her lover in his room. On the phrase “tall child”, backup voices enter, putting the emphasis on the world tall by making it taller through a fuller musical setting, and creating contrast with the prior solo. Rhythmic emphasis occurs as she sings “And I don’t wanna go home yet, let me walk to the top of the big night sky”. Here, the rhythm lines up with the words to emphasize the fact that she very much does not want to go home. Rhythmic emphasis comes again the last time “one last time” is sung: the band takes a pause in its motion during this phrase, drawing the listener’s ear directly to the words. Finally, each time “jump off of this ledge” is sung, it is sung in a downward motion as if she is actually jumping off of the ledge, forming a modern madrigalism. Ultimately, through lyrics that dramatically describe the impossible feelings of new love, and music that vividly draws emphasis to passionate moments, the song encapsulates the feeling of falling for someone new.

Similarly, Cipriano de Rore’s “Da Le Belle Contrade d’Oriente” uses a poem that depicts the desperate desire not to part after making love. The woman described in the poem clings to her lover, mad at the delight he shows over her deep desire for him to stay. Like Mitski’s song, it begins with description of the sweetness of making love, and quickly devolves into discussing the unbearable need to never leave each other. In some ways, Mitski’s lyrics are also complementary to this poem: it is easy to see that Mitski’s music could be equivalent to the thoughts of the woman depicted in Cipriano de Rore’s madrigal, a deeper dive into the longing she expresses at the thought of her love’s departure.

Musically, Cipriano de Rore uses rhythm to draw emphasis to words, varies the amount of voices singing, and uses melodic motion to depict sighs or sobs. This setting is similar to how Mitski sets her words, focusing clearly on rhythm, contrasting one voice and multiple voices, and melodic motion in correspondence with word meaning. With their similar and complementary subject matter, and musical settings that parallel each other, “First Love/Late Spring” and “Da Le Belle Contrade d’Oriente” are partners searching for the same understanding of human attachment.

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