Classical Music Stories

Classical Music Stories: Les Misérables

Les Miserables

Brahms: Intermezzo Op. 117 No. 1

“Sleep softly, my child, sleep softly and well!
It breaks my heart to see you weep.”

These lines are from “Lady Anne Bothwell’s Lament” and appear at the beginning of Brahms’ score.  The entire “Lament” is from the perspective of a mother singing a lullaby to her child, but as the poem gets darker we soon discover that the child’s father has abandoned them.

Sound familiar?

To me, the opening of the piece sounds like Fantine singing a lullaby to her beloved daughter, Cosette.  But when the music turns darker in the middle, we hear her pain at the father’s desertion and the trouble she has been through as a result.  She lives in poverty, sells her teeth, sells her hair, and finally resorts to prostitution to pay for the child she doesn’t even have the luxury of loving in person.

When the lullaby returns at the end, I hear Fantine at the end of her life.  The lullaby sounds more peaceful and pure this time, but it is only because Cosette is a hallucination.  The final, brief surge before the music fades out is either Fantine’s last breath before dying or her last desperate effort to call out to the imaginary child before the end of the piece when she closes her eyes forever.


Can you hear the music relating to Les Mis in a different way or to a different book altogether? Let me know in the comments!


If you enjoyed this post, you can find more Classical Music Stories here, including music for Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, and Alice in Wonderland.  

You can also follow me on Twitter here.

26 thoughts on “Classical Music Stories: Les Misérables”

  1. I love les mis. Thanku x On 23 Jul 2016 01:31, “If Mermaids Wore Suspenders” wrote:

    > aubreyleaman posted: ” Brahms: Intermezzo Op. 117 No. 1 “Sleep softly, my > child, sleep softly and well! It breaks my heart to see you weep.” These > lines are from “Lady Anne Bothwell’s Lament” and appear at the beginning of > Brahms’ score. The entire “Lament” is from the persp” >

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a wonderful connection. Wonderful. I will say, though, that the middle part requires a hefty dose of Beethoven to even begin to convey Fantine’s pain. As bitter as the piece is, it still sounds too sweet. Much too sweet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fair point. The middle feels kind of shrouded to me–like her love for Fantine is perhaps overshadowing the pain, at least from this perspective. Beethoven would definitely be a great choice, though!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A couple of years ago I wrote a paper on how different ways of singing the song communicate very different “Fantines” and listened to two different recordings over and over again to compare. It never got old!


      2. I love music! That’s the whole point of my blog. Classical music is one of the most complex styles that truly can cause an eclectic range of emotions. Le Mis is one of those plays where I walk away depressed. Especially when the mother loses her child. I enjoyed reading this post! Though my blog goes in a different direction than yours, you may enjoy some of the posts I’ve written 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Hey, I can’t seem to access your blog! It’s saying is no longer available. Do you know what the problem might be?


      4. Oh, I bought a website domain. The new one is I’m new to WordPress so I’m still figuring stuff out. How did you get my old blog address? I need to change that so no one else gets the wrong info.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Thanks! When I clicked your name on this comment it took me to that site. I’m guessing you should check your site’s settings and/or WP Admin section to make sure everything is switched over to the right address!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Les Miserables has the best music score. Every song stirs the senses. I felt particularly emotional this Bastille day as the horror unfolded. It seems that France is doomed to be the epitome of the shows theme. The fight for freedom. The musical is brilliant.i have seen the show four times. Once in London, once in Sydney and twice in Perth. Freedom is everything.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ll have to say that Empty Chairs at Empty Tables is my absolute favorite. I have seen the movie thrice, and cannot get enough of it. I could fill a tub with my tears every time.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dear Aubrey,

    I studied this intermezzo in college. I must say that I have an easier time connecting music to specific scenes that I imagine. For example, this intermezzo makes me think of a placid, glass-like lake. The middle part is the wind kicking up and making wind on the lake. Then, the wind dies down and it’s sunset, the end of a fine day.

    Sarah Douglas

    Liked by 1 person

  6. With the whole thing that appears to be developing throughout this specific subject matter, many of your points of view are actually relatively radical. On the other hand, I beg your pardon, but I can not subscribe to your whole idea, all be it exhilarating none the less. It appears to me that your opinions are actually not completely validated and in reality you are your self not even totally confident of the argument. In any event I did appreciate looking at it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment! I can definitely see where you’re coming from. All of this can definitely seem arbitrary, but I think by explaining the method in a little more detail I can answer some of your questions!

      I’ve actually written a thesis on how to imagine literature in classical music and the benefits of doing so. Once the SCHC website updates to include theses from 2016, the paper will be here: and you’ll be able to read the argument in more depth if you’d like! You can also check out the “How to Enjoy Classical Music (For Book Lovers)” post that explains how the method works, in general. (

      But I can tell you that these ideas are actually not as radical as they appear. I’ve drawn on a number of top-notch music theorists’ work that supports this method. As far as not being confident in the argument, myself, I assume you’re referring to the questions I pose at the end of the post that ask if others hear a different story. The beauty of this method is that there is no “right answer” as to what the music expresses! Telling stories to “match” the music just gives people a different perspective. I don’t think for a minute that Scriabin was actually writing this music about Romeo and Juliet, but the emotions in the music made me think of that story. What’s interesting, then, is the stories other people think of when they listen and what they all have in common. (Sorry for the super long response!)


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