Classical Music Stories

Classical Music Stories: Anna Karenina’s Mental Illness

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There’s a frantic undercurrent in this music that reminds me a lot of Anna Karenina’s mental struggles, complete with lush orchestral textures and a solo flute!

Classical Music Stories is a series that connects music to your favorite books and characters. Since listening to classical music can be like hearing a story, imagining specific stories that match the music can make it that much more fun and accessible!

WARNING: As fitting the novel, the story I describe at the end of this music is dark. Please do not enter into the mind of a depressed/suicidal character if this is a trigger for you. Make sure you are comfortable and safe.

Flute Concerto in E Minor (1st movement: Allegro con brio)
by Franz Benda
Played by Jean-Pierre Rampal and the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra

Vronsky sees Anna’s crazy see-sawing emotions, which are like a storm in the opening orchestral music. Most of the time Anna is passionately jealous, demanding him to profess his love, but then there are moments when she is totally calm–only to fly into a rage again at the slightest perceived provocation.

As the flute begins, we get Anna’s perspective: she feels timid and helpless, thinking the only way to be sure of Vronsky’s love is to keep him close to her. Always. She is filled with desperation and resolve.

Her feeings continue to vacillate, but with the return of the flute she speaks sweetly and tenderly to him. But this is more or less a façade for her passive-aggressive statements directed towards him that surely he would never leave her!

Vronsky (orchestra) tries to get a word in now and assert his dominance, but Anna (flute) just keeps talking, and he interrupts her. She becomes more frantic, desperate, and pleading, and then she doubts his love all over again. In fact, the opening orchestral bit of the music comes around again several more times, showing how they keep going in circles with the same arguments and how Anna’s own emotions themselves are going in circles.

But now things build to a climax as Anna warns Vronsky that he will regret his actions (solo flute at 6:30). As the beginning flute melody starts again, she mentally prepares herself for suicide.

She briefly indulges in memories of the good times and thinks that maybe they can have that again if she would just apologize. But she knows in her mind that it’s too late. She is so alone. The flute becomes more frantic as she gets closer, approaching the train station and steeling herself to jump.

Like in movies where the screen cuts between two scenes happening simultaneously, we see Vronsky’s frustration and anger at Anna’s fickleness at the same time that we see her jump in front of the train as the piece and her life come to an end.

***

This is a book as powerful as it is tragic. While we can never know exactly how another person is feeling, perhaps music can help us to empathize with friends, family, and even acquaintances and strangers who have mental health struggles, and encourage us to show them that they are not, in fact, alone. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

When you’re ready, you can take a break from the heavy with Create-Your-Own-Comics: ARRiel the Pirate Mermaid and the Trampoline to Space

For more Classical Music Stories relating to Anna Karenina:
Classical Music Stories #1: Anna Karenina (Part 1) (you can follow this all the way through Part 5 if you’d like or listen to any of the parts out of order)
Classical Music Stories: Anna Karenina and a Bach Cello Suite

Finally, you can check out more Classical Music Stories on books like Harry Potter, Romeo and Juliet, and Jane Eyre here.

2 thoughts on “Classical Music Stories: Anna Karenina’s Mental Illness”

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