Mourning and music: Nico Cartosio’s requiem for the unplayed tunes
By Amin Zargarian
I was sitting in my office at work, listening to my favourite playlist that I collected on my YouTube channel, which is surprisingly not as melancholic and dark as what I am about to write about here. It is perhaps unusual to hear a classical/symphonic music in a YouTube ad, unless it is an ad for a movie, often about man’s ascendance on the moon or other unconquered planets. I stopped what I was doing and quickly went back to youtube to find out about the source; paused the ad and examined its details. It was still unusual. Clicked on the ad and was taken to a link with a full video track of the music, an official piece released less than a month ago. Moved the bar back to the beginning and started to listen, not watch, obviously for I was at work and had no intention to spend time on watching the video. At the end of the video, I went back to the link and listened to it again, and again and again. After returning home from work, opened my laptop and decided to watch the video to the end, with every detail, and forget who wrote the music or what the title is and what the creator is trying to convey. Surely, I reviewed all of that in the end. But what brought me here, and to the decision for writing about the music (in particular, the music video) was the epic nature of it, and the genre. I still do not know much about Nico Cartosio but apparently a new album is soon coming out. So please check his YouTube channel for this video and other information about my new-found love in symphonic music composition. He deserves an award! Now, let me start talking about the video and its movements, and then on to what I thought it has to offer in relation to mourning and trauma.
Movements on the cinematic scene
The video begins with a little child entering what seems to be the remains of an old building, perhaps an auditorium. My assumption was an auditorium firstly because that is what the music tributes itself to: the unplayed tunes
I preferred to quote the caption here:
There are children who come to this world to give us music. But wars and diseases take them away before their time. This is a requiem for their tunes never played.
Cartosio’s music is beyond our ordinary perception of melancholia and sadness in which there are elements of epic, war-like beats that remind you of conquering than losing a battle, or let me put it this way, ascending as opposed to descending. This is also meticulously pictured in the cinematic view of the accompanying video with the music: in one scene, the audience who are also part of what seems to be a group of refugees on boats, are by-standers who are only capable of watching what is unfolding in front of their eyes: the ascending of the children (or perhaps children as souls); the musical tune is simultaneously dark and melancholic but also has that epic musical theme added to it: the ascent…
This is a properly corresponding image to what one might imagine while listening to music. I now borrow from Alexander Stein in his psychoanalytic paper entitled MUSIC, MOURNING, AND CONSOLATION (ref. 1) as he writes:
“Today there is an appreciable and sophisticated body of literature that synthesizes the various multidisciplinary perspectives in ways congruent with psychoanalytic thinking. These need not be surveyed here, save for the following overview. Noy (1993) has distilled three primary conceptualizations from the many formulations evolved over time to explain the interrelation of music and emotional experience: (1) the narrative route—music is itself the site of some immanent, pre-encoded narrative to be transmitted to a listener; (2) the direct route—music is isomorphically concordant with the listener’s emotions; and (3) the indirect route—the listener’s emotional reactions are the result of defensive ego-reorganizational activity triggered by auditory stimuli. This last, a formulation promulgated in the 1950s, has largely fallen out of favor, leaving adherents of the remaining approaches to continue debating how, or if, music “means” or “represents” something—and thus whether music is itself the site of some pre-encoded narrative to be transmitted to a listener—or whether it is isomorphically concordant with the listener’s emotions (i.e., whether, as Pratt  suggests, “music sounds the way emotion feels”).
It may seem we are undermining the effect of melancholic and sad music if we simplify it in terms of the musical aesthetics of the work, but what Stein has to tell us here about the relation between (sad) music and mourning is that there are “parapsychic” features that are hard to explain beyond the two spheres of physical reception of the tune and the mental state to which the tune corresponds. The examples he brings range from stories and anecdotes dating back to Freud until modern day musical geniuses such as Shastakovich and their work. It is a fascinating point to consider that much of the work in what he calls the “mourning genre of music” can be associated with the death of a famous person:
“From the vantage point of the composer, mourning music is a genre that can serve more than one master, balancing the often competing demands of muse, economics, politics, and professional ambition. Numerous works used in funereal settings were commissioned not as mournful laments but to satisfy the grandiose narcissistic needs of a wealthy or powerful person, and in that regard function essentially as ostentatious musical tombstones.”
While this holds true, and later Stein adds that this is not certainly the case with all music in this genre, I must add the power of image that is a timely pair with the music: escape, war, refugees, children, loss, grief, trauma and melancholia. These are not, as Stein puts it, to be mixed with other music composed in a similar stream:
“It is worth mentioning two additional groupings. One contains works that have become associated with grief and mourning primarily by virtue of their connection with or use in a work in another medium. Prime examples include Kodály’s Piano Piece op. 3, no. 2, to which Martha Graham choreographed her 1930 dance piece, Lamentation. In film, the Adagio in G Minor by Albinoni was employed evocatively in the soundtrack of Peter Weir’s Gallipoli (1981), Barber’s Adagio for Strings in Oliver Stone’s Platoon (1986), and Pachabel’s Canon in D in Robert Redford’s Ordinary People (1980). Each of these films deals with themes of loss.”
In a section that Stein devoted to the “mourning genre of music”, he includes consolation and how it can be perceived in musical aesthetic sense. Earlier in his work, he also writes about certain “hallucinatory” features of music in this genre and he quotes Freud in that regard:
“But what of the connection between mourning and consolation? Freud (1917) regarded mourning as “the reaction to the loss of a loved person, or to the loss of some abstraction which has taken the place of one” (p. 243). The distinguishing features of such profound loss would include feelings of pain, a loss of interest in the world, and, relatedly, a diminished capacity to adopt a replacement object for the one lost. The work (or, more accurately, the process) of mourning inaugurates on this view an intense struggle giving rise to a compromise solution: an internal hallucinatory process in which the lost object is in essence kept alive in the mind.”
In my opinion, and as Stein would have said here, such “internal hallucinatory process”, in regards to the work of Nico Cartosio, both in music and the cinematic scene, reminds us of our “parapsychic” experiences of loss and grief, along with the fact that there is a replacement of ourselves in the context of “childhood”, which is an amalgam of nostalgia and melancholia. This musical void drags us into a dream of the loss of ourselves than our-selves, which involves our lack of empathy for what constitutes our compassion towards the children losing lives to diseases, conflicts and wars. The music, and the film in this work engage us and make us reflect on our past with mourning music and our losses.
I found the music powerful and the video very moving in their essence, and recommend you watch it with eyes closed, eyes open and finally hearts and mind open to what message it has for all of us modern humans. Also you can find Stein’s article in the reference link. Feel free to comment or email me about what your thoughts are on Cartosio’s work or Stein’s psychoanalytic work on Music and Mourning.