Four Homeopathic Songs to Lower Stress
Stress really is nothing more than the fruit of tension and conflict, but it is a most influential factor in one's overall sense of well-being. One who is excessively stressed finds one's ability to function greatly diminished, and that means one cannot think well and thus cannot act well. But music therapy can help; by losing oneself to agitated music, one can alleviate the feeling of stress and conflict; in short one has one's katharsis. Here follow four suggested pieces to quickly bring that stressed feeling to its crisis point, where it dissipates to calm...
Tchaikovsky: Polonaise from Evgeny Onegin
P. I. Tchaikovsky's 1876 opera Evgeny Onegin is a work about the passions of youth versus the restraints of social convention that oblige one to check the said passions. The Polonaise is one of the opera's more famous numbers, preceding that tragic moment when the title character, Onegin, discovers that he actually loves country girl Tatyana, who still loves him but is now married to somebody else. A polonaise is a stately dance that evokes the grandeur of St. Petersburg society, and in this case, there is a deeper layer, for the undercurrent of the majestic polonaise is the struggle to hold one's emotions in check, despite the pressure to release them. To be brief, the Polonaise is an unobjectionable way to become aware of similar feelings felt for reasons either similar or not, and once the conflict is brought to light, the stress is lessened.
Tchaikovsky: Waltz from Evgeny Onegin
In the opera Evgeny Onegin, there is another tense dance scene, a choral waltz that is often performed on its own by only the orchestra. In terms of the opera's plot, at Tatyana's name day celebration, the waltz is played as bored Onegin's friendship with poet Lensky is crumbling in earnest. Onegin wants excitement above all other things and has attained some by cruelly spurning Tatyana'a advances, and at the name day ball, he makes advances to Lensky's fiancée, Olga. Needless to say, the friends quarrel, and the next scene is a duel.
Once again there is the mood of conflict and tension between people's emotions, the mood of struggle against such feelings for the sake of propriety. Once again, in short, one is offered an opportunity for katharsis.
We all have our desires that are not socially correct, and few things contribute more effectively to stress than such desires. For instance, everybody wants to tell off another person every now and then, but one is supposed to turn the other cheek, so to speak, and take the abuse. Duels are no longer an option. The violence of Tchaikovsky's music thus offers, not only an expression of the inner tension but also a version of the violence that some under stress may want to commit. Thus one has one's katharsis.
Tchaikovsky: Waltz from Swan Lake
I know my selections are mostly by Tchaikovsky. This is not an accident, or a prejudice. Being homosexual in nineteenth-century Russia, Tchaikovsky knew stress and conflict, and it is only fitting that his most famous opera would concern those themes. His more famous ballets, on the other hand, are not supposed to convey the stress of the composer's emotional life, which was why Tchaikovsky himself was highly critical of them, most famously toward The Nutcracker. Swan Lake is supposed to be a fairy tale albeit a tragic one. Naturally, the Sturm und Drang that was Tchaikovsky's element is at home in this ballet.
The waltz is, in many respects, the hallmark of Swan Lake. It is the number most frequently performed on its own, and its tone is an agitated, conflicted one beneath a light veneer, rather like the feeling one has in the presence of one's boss, or a friend one could do better without. However, most people do not acknowledge such feelings in themselves but cringe all the same. To them I strongly recommend they listen, really listen, to this waltz.
S. Rakhmaninov: Capriccio on Gypsy Themes
One seldom thinks of Gypsy music as tense or agitated, but it becomes so in Sergei Rakhmaninov's hands. Also, in Rakhmaninov's hands, it takes on a mood of utter isolation and loneliness, things that contribute to feelings of stress, though few are actually aware of the fact. One word of warning, though: at nearly twenty minutes in length this piece calls for one to set time aside for listening, and it is best for more chronic cases where stress is generated from within the psyche. And do not forget to pay attention.