All this week, we’re falling in love with classical music all over again during KUSC’s Love at First Listen week! We asked for the stories behind the pieces that kicked off your love of classical music, so it’s only fair we share ours! Scroll down for stories from the KUSC staff.
One of the first pieces that implanted itself in my brain was an opera overture. As a youngster, I had an LP (remember them?) of famous overtures. The one that grabbed me was Louis Ferdinand Hérold’s Zampa Overture, one of those high energy curtain raisers. And it wasn’t just the melody. I still remember my ears being drawn to the accompaniment (a bunch of brass). It wasn’t until many years later that I looked into the story of the opera and learned that it ends with the title character being crushed in the marble arms of a statue as Mount Etna erupts in the background.
John Van Driel
I grew up in a home that always played classical music. But when I was about 9 years old I received my first recording of Beethoven’s 9th symphony. A 1963 recording (2 Lp set) featuring the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Herbert Von Karajan. I couldn’t get enough of it…air conducting every moment and mouthing the words to the “Ode to Joy”. I think I still have it hidden in a box somewhere.
I did not grow up in a house with classical music. It was strictly Frank Sinatra, Trini Lopez, and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. When I went to college, I thought listening to classical music would help me study. I heard Ravel’s Pavane for a Dead Princess and fell in love. I remember going to the music library at Cal one day, and listening to an LP recording of the Pavane over and over again. I always try to keep that experience in mind when I’m on the air; the awareness that for some listeners, they’re hearing a piece for the very first time and possibly falling in love!
It’s difficult to say what exactly got me hooked on classical music. The first piece of music I truly loved was Schubert’s Symphony No. 9. As a nine-year-old, I was obsessed with this symphony. I loved the entire hour-long work, but I had a particular fondness for the electricity of the finale. My recording was a cassette of George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra. I had one of those cassette decks with a three-digit counter that had no relationship whatsoever to time—it was just numbers that rolled by as the music played. (I since learned that those numbers relate to the number of revolutions of the reel.) The first two movements were on one side of the cassette and the last two movements were on the other side. I had memorized exactly where on the counter the finale started, provided I zeroed out the display at the beginning of the third movement. So, I would fast-forward to the finale and listen to it. Then, I’d rewind to the proper spot on the counter and listen again. And again. Looking back, I think what drew me to this particular music was the mesmerizing intricacy of what was happening in the strings (almost impossibly fast arpeggios) in conjunction with the intense, but not overwhelming power of what was going on in the brass. I loved the fact that the entire finale sets you up for the big climax of four unison notes. That was where I learned about differences in recordings and interpretation. I would call my local radio station’s request line and ask for Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 and I would wait for those four notes to see how the particular recording the host chose that night played that moment in the piece. I suppose that experience might also be responsible for my early love of radio as well.
Mickey Mouse made me fall in love with classical music. I can’t remember what age I was when I first witnessed the wonder of Fantasia – but I do know that I was NOT a fan of Night on Bald Mountain. Way too scary! I was already terrified by the annual television appearance of the Wicked Witch of the West so was not about to add another frightful image to my impressionable kid brain.
But the glee of Micky Mouse testing his magical powers, and the “oops” thrill of those endlessly replicating brooms, made me sit up and take notice of the power of music to tell stories and paint pictures.
It was the sixties and, rather than be gently finessed into liking classical music, I needed to be thoroughly bludgeoned into submission. Enter Siegfried and company. My first classical music love was Wagner’s Ring – all 16 hours of it; listened to on headphones in 45-minute snatches during free periods in high school amid coffee-drinking adults in the English teachers’ faculty lounge. When at last the world had been purged by one woman’s sacrifice and the gold was returned to its rightful owners, I was transformed. A sobbing mess. Truly I was not the same person I was when I had started listening to The Ring a few months earlier. I knew then without a doubt that I had to stay as close to this state of clarity, of meaning, of significance as humanly possible. It was at that moment, at age 17, that I made the decision to become a classical radio announcer. What better way to keep the music up front than a career like that? So far, so good. Thanks, Mr. Wagner.