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At work I often listen to Pandora with headphones on. Today it played a beautiful chillout track I hadn't heard in years: Conjure One - Center Of The Sun. The song lyrics use the phrase "I hear volins", which in context seem to mean something like "when I hear such beauty, nothing else matters".

I was already aware of "I hear violins" in the song lyrics of the 80s pop song ABC - When Smokey Sings. The song is a tribute to Smokey Robinson, and although the Wikipedia page for it doesn't mention anything about the lyrics, the phrase does seem to be used in a similar context.

Further searching found the 1975 New York Times Article Do I hear Volins? in which the phrase is presented as a question, as if the reader should know what it means. I also found the 1963 song Ronnie Savoy - I Hear Violins, but I could find neither recordings nor lyrics for it.

Does anyone know the meaning of "I hear violins", and when it first might have been used..?

Thanks.

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  • I don't think there's any single source for that phrase, and certainly there's no single meaning inherent in using it today. In the NYT article, it's being used to suggest an invitation to dance. In other contexts it can mean other things.
    – Robusto
    Feb 21, 2019 at 20:10
  • Yes, clearly it's used as a metaphor. But it seems to be contextual.
    – spinjector
    Feb 21, 2019 at 20:26
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    I would take it to be a reference to movie scores--when emotion swells, so do the strings. So presumably it dates from the 1930s at earliest, and probably more like the fifties or sixties, when "hearing violins" at moments of high emotion was firmly established as a cliche.
    – 1006a
    Feb 22, 2019 at 2:53
  • Ahhh interesting...like the old horror movie screeching violins.
    – spinjector
    Feb 22, 2019 at 14:20
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    The opposite of screeching violins: lush and romantic. If I say I hear violins, I am saying that the mood has changed to warm and emotional, which may be positive or sappy in context. Aug 24, 2020 at 15:30

1 Answer 1

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A strong candidate for the early propagation—if not the origin itself—of this usage is the song "It's Magic," sung by Doris Day in the 1948 film Romance on the High Seas. The lyrics begin as follows:

You sigh, a song begins / You speak and I hear violins / It's magic / The stars desert the skies / And rush to nestle in your eyes / It's magic

Here's a clip of Ms Day's rendition of the song from the movie in question.

An Elephind newspaper database search turns up a couple of references to this song, many years apart. In "Torchy," in the [Golden] Colorado Transcript (September 30, 1948), someone uses the lyrics as the lead-in to a description of Harley Johnson, the Senior of the Week at Golden High School:

You sigh, the song begins, you speak, and I hear violins—“It’s Magic.” The stars desert the skies and rush to nestle in your eyes—“lt’s Magic.” Junior, or Long John (which ever you prefer) was born November 7, 1932 in Denver, Colo. He is six-feet two-inches tall and has red hair and freckles. Harley plays safe by liking all the girls but by the same token plays a good end by leaving them all alone.

In a Valentine's Day personal ad posted in the [Kent, Ohio] Daily Kent Stater (February 14, 1989), it segues into a jazz riff:

"You speak and I hear Violins, It’s magic." Well, actually I hear jazz trumpets--I Love You Noe! Sue

The third and last instance of "I hear violins" in the Elephind search results doesn't refer to "It's Magic" and, indeed, suggests that the violins, if heard, would signal not dreamy love but weepy nostalgia. From Steve Pletkin, "Nice Predictions; Awards, Good and Bad; Final Column Ever!" in the Santa Rosa [California] Junior College Oak Leaf (January 10, 1991):

Oh well, this is it, my last issue as both sports editor and editor-in-chief. It was great while it lasted, but like all good things it must come to an end. Did I hear violins? Nah!

What these instances have in common is the idea that "I hear violins" means "I imagine an appropriate musical score to accompany the intense emotions I am feeling."

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  • So it's from Romance on the High Seas, eh? This certainly helps explain I hear banjo music, which is a reference to Deliverance.
    – Phil Sweet
    Aug 25, 2020 at 9:27
  • Thank you. This is a hell of a write-up. [thumbs up]
    – spinjector
    Aug 25, 2020 at 12:03
  • @PhilSweet: And don't forget "I hear cowbells," which is from Hud.
    – Sven Yargs
    Aug 25, 2020 at 15:48

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