No Valentine? No Problem. Lose Yourself in a Book, Film or Tune

By Farah Bassyouni Feb 11, 2022
Drawing by Liam Killian


Drawing by Liam Killian


This Valentine’s season, if you are not celebrating with a special someone, you should take this opportunity to immerse yourself in some romantic literature, films or music. IWU faculty from the English Department and School of Music have recommendations for some content you should dive into. 

Professor Wes Chapman, of IWU’s English department, has some optional out-of-class reading if you admire classical literature, especially heartfelt romantic books. Professor Chapman selected Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights for a taste of Romanticism and Gothic fiction in a “classical doomed romance.”If you’re looking for something dramatic this holiday, some of the prominent themes in the novel are love, morality, childhood, money and class. Published in December 1847, the novel follows  the Earnshaws and the Lintons in West Yorkshire and their turbulent relationships with Earnshaw’s adopted son, Heathcliff. There’s also a film adaptation made in 1992 directed by Peter Kosminsky for non-readers. 

But the best novel Professor Chapman has ever read about “hopeless, life-changing passion” is Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion. This novel illustrates the life of a French soldier in the Napoleonic army during 1805 as he takes charge of Napoleon’s personal larder. It is a historiographic metafiction novel published in 1987 that explores themes of passion, constructions of gender and sexuality, and broader themes common to 1980s and 90s British fiction. 

Another professor from the English department, professor James Plath has a “romantically tragic” novel recommendation for students to read: Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. The novel is set in Russia during World War I and the Russian Civil War. The novel has themes of loneliness, fate and circumstances, philosophy of human nature and passion. Yuri Zhivago is a married physician and poet whose life is altered by the war and falls madly in love with Lara Antipova who becomes a nurse in the war. This novel was published in 1957, but was banned in the Soviet Union for decades. The later film adaptation in 1965 directed by David Lean is an epic historical and romantic drama film that won five Oscars. 

For all the music lovers out there, IWU’s Faculty from the School of Music has some romantic tunes for you to listen to. Professor Sey Ahn, Director of Large Instrumental Ensembles, explains that “so much music is about love and inspired by love,” which is why we should take this Valentine’s season to celebrate music in its beautiful forms. Professor Ahn shares her love for orchestral music with recommendations of “super romantic and heartbreakingly beautiful” symphonies. Professor Ahn brings French composer Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe No. 2 to our attention that depicts physical love. 

Professor Ahn’s second recommendation is Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, one of her personal favorites. It is a work that composer Wagner wrote for his wife Cosima for a surprise birthday/ Christmas gift. It was performed for her on Christmas morning in 1870. A quote that particularly caught Professor Ahn’s eye was when Cosima describes her experience receiving the gift, Cosima writes, “As I awoke, my ear caught a sound, which swelled fuller and fuller; no longer could I imagine myself to be dreaming: music was sounding and such music! When it died away, Richard came into my room with the children and offered me the score of the symphonic birthday poem.”

Assistant Professor of Music Education, Bradley Regier has some jazz recommendations for the jazz lovers out there. His first selection is Chet Baker’s “My Funny Valentine” that he describes as the “true standard of jazz repertoire.” Professor Regier points to the charm of the song that indicates that it is not your typical love song, it is “a song so good it’s almost a cliché.” In addition, Professor Regier includes one of his all-time favorites, a classic Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald song called “Cheek to Cheek,” among the collection of Louis and Ella songs that could also fit this Valentine’s season.

To add a heartwarming vocal and piano piece to the mix, Professor of Theory, Lucy Liu recommends Claudio Monteverdi’s “Cruda Amarilli” and Schubert’s “Serenade” from Schwanengesang. Professor Liu describes these music pieces to be one’s that evoke feelings of romantic love. Professor Liu describes the song as “nature in all its glory, sublimity, gentle quietness, harshness, and indifference not only set the scenes for on-goings in the human world but also participates as a persona in these narratives.” 

Head of the Music Theory, History, and Composition Area, Professor Adriana Ponce, includes some pieces that she thinks might captivate even those non-classical listeners. Her top two recommendations are Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no. 2 and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto no.1. She describes these pieces as beautiful and powerful as well as accessible. She illustrates that these pieces both illustrate musical ideals from the Romantic period, and that have “lyrical moments of incredible intimacy.” Professor Ponce fell in love with both pieces written by Russian composers for writing expressive, even catchy melodies, in her early teens. 

Professors from IWU’s English department and School of Music have made a number of novel, film and music recommendations for all students to check out this Valentine’s season. Even if you don’t usually listen to classical music or read novels, be sure to give some of these recommendations a chance this holiday weekend.


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