Immediate Music Vs. Takes-Many-Times Music

Why is it that we get some music instantly, while other music takes several hearings to make sense? I've obsessed with this question.

sheherazade.jpg

I must have been about 11 years old when I first heard Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade for the first time.  Instant rapture and understanding. Even now as an adult, while I marvel at its orchestral magic in a way I couldn’t understand when I was 11, I still love and hear it much the same as I did back then.  The message of Scheherazade comes through the first time.

 manuscript page of Bach's Organ Sonata No. 5

manuscript page of Bach's Organ Sonata No. 5

It was different for me with the Bach Organ Sonatas. I remember feeling frustrated and bored with them the first time— so cerebral and austere, even bare in their 3 part counterpoint. Where was the drama and rich chords I knew from Bach’s toccatas? Fast-forward many listenings over the years and now they are among the most emotional and powerful pieces I know. A few months ago I even felt the urge to create my own piano transcription of the second sonata.

 beginning of Crumb's astonishing Voice of the Whale

beginning of Crumb's astonishing Voice of the Whale

Contemporary classical music is no different. The first time I heard George Crumb’s trio for electric flute, cello, and piano Voice of the Whale, I just fell in love and understood it immediately.  On the other hand, I had a cold response to Ligeti’s Trio for Horn, Violin, and Piano  on first listening. It took many more listenings for me to discover it is one of the 20th century masterpieces. But now I feel it.

Have you had these experiences?  Please share them with me. Comment on a piece that you immediately liked the first time you heard it and then tell me a piece that you only came to love and understand after hearing it multiple times.