How To Time Travel with Music


Have you heard a piece of music that was powerful enough to bend time?

In an essay called “How Music Hijacks Our Sense of Time” at Nautilus, composer Jonathan Berger outlined how great music can distort your sense of time.

His excellent essay argued that Franz Schubert’s “String Quintet” is the “forceful”  example of music that actually bends time. Berger showed how the composer produced a 40-minute work of art that worked like a time machine of sorts…

Schubert composed the four-movement work in 1828, during the feverish last two months of his life. (He died at age 31.) In the work, he turns contrasting distortions of perceptual time into musical structure.

You can listen to excerpts from Schubert’s quintet at Nautilus or you can follow this Spotify link to hear the whole piece. The essay continued:

Following the opening melody in the first Allegro ma non troppo movement, the second Adagio movement seems to move slowly and be far longer than it really is, then hastens and shortens before returning to a perception of long and slow.

He concluded by showing how the rest of the quintet works:

The Scherzo that follows reverses the pattern, creating the perception of brevity and speed, followed by a section that feels longer and slower, before returning to a percept of short and fast. The conflict of objective and subjective time is so forcefully felt in the work that it ultimately becomes unified in terms of structural organization.

(Metronome image via James Lee)

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