If you’ve ever strolled through the commercial streets of Naples or Rome, you’re sure to have experienced it: that moment when, in the midst of unsuspectingly letting your gaze wander from one display window to the next, you suddenly notice this melody that’s covering it all like a blanket—one that’s vaguely familiar, though you can’t immediately put your finger on it. It lends the banal everyday situation in which you find yourself—the young people with their shopping bags, the tour guides with their raised umbrellas, the street vendors with their water bottles—a mysterious quality, as if you were suddenly in a different place. All at once, it’s as if you were walking differently, as if every gesture were suddenly meaningful, as if you were in some movie.

It’s just this type of enchanted feeling that one gets when a street musician does their rendition of Nino Rota’s theme from The Godfather. A melody that’s almost more famous than the movie trilogy itself—and, at least as far as the third part is concerned, significantly better.

It thus joins a long line of legendary instrumental numbers that are inseparably linked with cinematic classics like Star Wars, Gone with the Wind, and Harry Potter, to name just a few. In mere seconds, they catapult those of us who hear them into a different time, a different emotional state. What is it that makes good film music so magical? Those moments in which it underlines key scenes, intensifies feelings, highlights dramatic moments? Its composition? Its effectiveness as standalone music? It’s probably all that, but even more importantly: it’s closely intertwined with our memories … of that moment when we saw a movie for the first time, of the feelings we had during that phase of our lives, of the person or people who were with us back then. Film music is audible memory, an acoustic photo album that lets us leaf through thoughts, and forever part of the soundtrack of our lives.

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