Sex has ruined César Franck for Richard Brody. Writing in The New Yorker, the magazine’s movie critic explains how the first movement of the composer’s violin concerto, transposed for cello, is “now accursedly Nymphomaniac (stylized in advertising as NYMPH()MANIAC) associated with the clumsiness of the filming and the ugliness of the doctrine of [Lars Von Trier’s] ‘Nymphomaniac.’

What Brody describes as a masterwork of late Romanticism can now only bring back unpleasant memories of a movie he detested.

He then lists a number of other musical pieces that for him are forever linked to scenes in movies — for better or worse. The Sextet from Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” reminds him of the opera scene in Jean Renoir’s 1934 version of “Madame Bovary.” Handel’s aria “Lascia ch’io pianga,” from the opera “Rinaldo” survives an association with a scene of sadistic beating in “Nymphomaniac” only because it’s already associated for Brody with Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville’s 1978 video “France/Tour/Détour/Deux/Enfants.” “Stuck in the Middle with You” makes him think of the torture scene in “Reservoir Dogs.”

Few of us can match Brody’s encyclopedic knowledge of movies and only slightly more would be able to name every piece of classical music they hear pasted into the soundtrack of a film.

But we also don’t need to. Good music bring its own associations. It’s impossible to listen to Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony without imagining the happy gathering of country folk in the third movement or the thunderstorm that hits in the fourth movement. The music speaks for itself. Use the Four Seasons as the soundtrack to a deodorant commercial and you should still imagine spring and summer more vividly than you can think of spray-ons and speedsticks.

Occasionally, one annoying association can impinge on the story embedded in a piece of music. One of the commenters under Brody’s article says that Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” has been ruined for him by the film of the same name; another says that a commercial for American Airlines has destroyed “Rhapsody in Blue” for him.

But surely they’re exaggerating.


Get Out Of the Movie Theater And Into The Concert Hall

Music brings with it all sorts of associations. There are the images and emotions the composer has placed between the notes, and there are the memories and experiences the listener brings to the sounds. Part of the pleasure of looking through a CD collection is remembering why you bought each disc, where you found it and the occasions you first listened to it. Usually all of those associations are positive and pleasant. They allow us to add our own nostalgia to a piece of music.

Another commenter under Brody’s article argues that “excellent music cannot make a movie, and a poor movie cannot break excellent music.” The association between the two will eventually fade, the commenter says. He also argues that going to a live performance usually helps that process reach its end faster.

That might be the best solution for Richard Brody. Perhaps if he spent less time watching French movies from the 1930s on DVD and more time listening to live orchestras in concert halls, his positive associations with music would be stronger — and he wouldn’t have to see Lars Von Trier.


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