In my "Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Symphony," I asked the question “What makes us sit still for up to an hour listening to extended abstract music played by an orchestra?” I am struck how each person discovers a different doorway to this aesthetic pleasure. For me, it was four measures of chords played by the woodwinds in the slow movement of Beethoven’s Fifth. I asked my webmail community, "What specific musical passage first grabbed you?"
Here are the stunning responses:
Thinking back for the ''first memory'' I think it was the Mendelssohn violin concerto, a recording of which my violinist uncle played for me in Lincoln, Nebraska. I was four years old. The other memory would be the old shellac recording of the Polovstian Dances by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra on Columbia Records (I EVEN REMEMBER THE LABEL!) which I played on our windup Victrola in the ''music room''. That would be 83 years ago. I thought the little instruments were somewhere inside the box. I still adore the Borodin.
I think that the first time I listened to the same piece of music about 400 times was when I was in college. I just wanted to "swallow" it whole! That was the Brahms Double Concerto. There are so many magnificent themes - melodies and harmonies in that piece of work that I never tire of hearing it and we don't get to hear it enough!
When I was a teenager in the mid 1960's I went by myself to a concert at Lewisohn Stadium in Manhattan, NY. Van Cliburn played the 2nd Rachmaninoff concerto. The evening was magical and I was grabbed by the opening measures of the Adagio Sostenuto movement. For days I could not get the melody out of my head.
Brahms. The line in the Requiem "as one whom his own mother comforteth". Certainly the words were meaningful to me, having experienced two family deaths as a child, but without the music they would have been arid. This became my entree into all of Brahms.
I remember first hearing a hi-fi recording of Rimsky-Korsakoff's Scheherazade when I was in 7th grade. The opening phrase and its endless modifications, key changes, variations and the musical dialogue between the beautiful princess and her potential slayer simply transported me to another realm. It still does today - I must have every recording ever made by now. And the lights still have to be off when I listen.
2nd movement, Beethoven's Fourth Symphony, forever.
The first few bars of english horn solo in the middle of The William Tell Overture.
Y. S. Moriarty
I'm struck by the music of Alan Hovhaness. I discovered him driving to work -- I could pick up a classical station from Princeton whose host knew him well and he would often play his works. He was a prolific composer, and I can recommend arguably his best known work, his Symphony #2 (Mysterious Mountain), and ESPECIALLY his Symphony #50 (Mount St. Helens). The 2nd movement, Spirit Lake, has one of the most beautiful English horn/flute/clarinet/pizz. string/perc. segments I have ever heard, and the 3rd movement, which is Hovhaness' musical rendering of the volcano, will jump you out of your seat -- I would love to see this piece done live just to watch the percussion section at work -- and I think he has the strings depicting birds flying away in terror!
For me it was sitting in the USC music library in graduate school, listening to Brahms’ 3rd Symphony for the first time (I know, how could I never have heard it before graduate school} and realizing that the final phrase of the last movement was the opening phrase of the first movement. Pure sublimity.
This will be different but the horn part to "Victory at Sea" [Richard Rodgers and Robert Russell Bennett] was what made want to be a horn player. My favorite passage when I was around 6 or 7 was the beginning of the Chopin Polonaise Militaire. My mother loved to play it.
The Largo from Dvorak's New World Symphony.
Dvorak's new world symphony last movement grabbed my attention when i was 14 as it reminded me of the score to JAWS.