The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What piece first hooked you on classical music? | October 9, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

So there we were.

Riding in the car and listening to music.

“What piece do you remember first getting hooked on and loving?” The Ear asked The Friend.

Turned out it was Soviet composer Reinhold Gliere’s “The Red Poppy” Suite. (You can hear that work in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

That seemed a pretty sophisticated and rarefied work, compared to The Ear’s more predictable choices.

He recalls two first works, both of which he was exposed to through a budget set of vinyl LPs that his mom brought back each week from the A&P grocery store way back when.

One was the sweeping tone poem about the Bohemian river and landscape called “The Moldau” by Czech composer Bedrich Smetana, which you can hear below  performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic in a YouTube video that has more than two million hits.

The other was the popular Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor Op. 18, by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff as performed by Artur Rubinstein (now generally spelled Arthur, as he wanted, although The Ear prefers the more exotic Artur) and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under conductor Fritz Reiner. (I think copyright and licensing agreements were a lot less restrictive and less expensive back then, which may help explain the larger audience for classical music and classical recordings in those days.)

Here is that work and that historic performance in a YouTube video:

And The Ear still loves both works passionately. And all three works testify to the largely Romantic taste of young listeners.

Anyway, it was a fun recollection to have and got The Ear to thinking:

Maybe readers of this blog would be willing to share their first memory of the classical music that they loved first and got hooked on?

The Ear would love to hear from the general public but also from professional musicians. Especially professional musicians.

You can  leave the title, composer and performer in the COMMENTS section along with a link to a YouTube video if possible.


  1. Reading all the memories has been stimulating and entertaining. My first fav was Shubert’s Impromptu #4, which I learned as a student of the Madison piano teacher, Maria Syllum.


    Comment by Barbara Furstenberg — October 13, 2015 @ 12:43 pm

  2. i heard classical music from the womb on. it was as much a part of my life as lunch, so i can’t name a specific. but my parents have told me that one of the first words i said was “Semiramide.”


    Comment by elaine smith — October 10, 2015 @ 8:08 am

  3. I started to hear classical music as I watched Bugs Bunny and as I played in HS orchestra and youth symphony. A few I remember fondly include the Brandenburg #3 by Bach, the St. Paul’s Suite by Holst, the Rossini Barber of Seville Overture, and the Bloch Concerto Grosso No.1. But the 2 recordings that really brought me into the fold were from my senior year of high school: a recording of George Szell conducting Beethoven Symphonies 4 & 5 and especially the ASMF/Marriner recording of the Symphonies 6, 7 & 8 by Haydn.


    Comment by Steve Kurr — October 9, 2015 @ 9:04 pm

  4. Every Sunday morning, my father played the “Slava! Slava! Slava!” Chorus from Boris Gudonov to wake us up for breakfast and church. My earliest recollection of this was when I was 4 and it continued until I left for Madison. My first Sunday on campus at UW was not a happy one. But no wonder I became a professional musician!


    Comment by Cristy Byers-Flum — October 9, 2015 @ 3:04 pm

    • my dad played Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony on Sunday mornings. what happy memories.


      Comment by elaine smith — October 10, 2015 @ 8:15 am

  5. Copland had two styles. One was for the mass consumption of the public, and had that stereotypically American feel that made him America’s Composer. The other was a much more academic and dissonant style, so that he would be taken seriously by his colleagues.
    I am not sure if people bother to do this anymore. Current classical music. like jazz, has to sound un-popular to be taken seriously. A writer once called it “listening without your tonal filters, but instead with Atonal filters, or expectations.”


    Comment by 88melter — October 9, 2015 @ 12:19 pm

  6. Honestly, it has been so long, and so much music under the bridge, that I have no specific recollection of a particular piece that got me moving into music. I listened to a lot of pre-Beatles pop radio when I was a child. I always liked pop/rock that used brass and strings. I liked YES, and still do. Maurice Ravel, still my Hero after all these years…
    As far as classical music, I had a high-school girlfriend that played piano, and our first kiss was while playing a Beethoven sonata as a duet. I played the left hand or the bottom part.. that info is for you armchair psychologists out there! MBB


    Comment by 88melter — October 9, 2015 @ 12:15 pm

  7. Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony and Franck’s Symphonic Variations


    Comment by Frances Karp — October 9, 2015 @ 11:11 am

  8. Variations on a Nursery Theme (Twinkle, twinkle…) by Ernst von Dohnanyi. I heard the composer play this piece with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the very first symphonic concert I ever attended – probably late 1940s. Back in those days the Chicago Symphony came up to Milwaukee by train to present monthly concerts at the Pabst Theater.


    Comment by Johanna Fabke — October 9, 2015 @ 10:44 am

  9. I was thirteen when I bought my first LP. It was a recording of Liszt’s Les Preludes, music that was partially used as background music in those old Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon serials. A week after this I heard, of all things, Mahler for the first time. It was the weekend of the Kennedy assassination. Of course I was too young to “understand” all of what was happening in the music, but at that time I knew that classical music was the thing for me.


    Comment by Robert Palmer — October 9, 2015 @ 10:35 am

  10. Ear, indulge me one more. Aaron Copland’s Piano Sonata. I heard it in NY
    when I was 9 and have yet to hear anyone perform it in concert, live, since. Why do you think that would be?


    Comment by Ronnie Hess — October 9, 2015 @ 10:19 am

    • It’s a good piece.
      Not sure why it isn’t programmed more often. Probably because it is hard to play and because it is not as accessible to many listeners as a lot of other Copland.
      I think it also loses out to a lot of other modern piano sonatas by, say, Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff.
      Maybe readers have other ideas.
      Readers — what do you say?


      Comment by welltemperedear — October 9, 2015 @ 10:33 am

  11. Four Lps inherited from a distant relative.
    Bernstein: Dvorak’s “New World Symphony”
    Toscanini: Beethoven 7th
    Horowitz: Moonlight and Pathetique
    Josef Lhevine: Chopin Waltzes


    Comment by Marius — October 9, 2015 @ 8:32 am

  12. My mother played the piano so there was always classical music in the house. But I particularly remember hearing a recording of Brahms’
    Hungarian Dance #5 and being swept away. I was about 8.


    Comment by Ronnie Hess — October 9, 2015 @ 8:18 am

  13. Prokofiev’s ‘Classical’ Symphony — it was the first music I heard that made me laugh outloud. I must have been about twelve.


    Comment by slfiore — October 9, 2015 @ 8:08 am

  14. My parents had 78 rpm recordings of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite,” Grofe’s “Grand Canyon Suite” and, of all things, Debussy’s “Three Nocturnes.” I’d listen to them as I fell asleep and vividly remember lying in bed one night staring at a full moon between the houses listening to “Nuages.” I haven’t turned back since.


    Comment by Michael Muckian — October 9, 2015 @ 8:00 am

  15. Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat major, Vladimir Horowitz, pianist, Arturo Toscanini, conductor [RCA Victor, 78 rpm]. It was the summer of 1946. I was 11 and electrified by it. Changed my life in a wonderful way.


    Comment by Jess Anderson — October 9, 2015 @ 6:33 am

    • Great choice, Jess.
      A little over a decade later, I had a similar experience with the same concerto. But the pianist was Van Cliburn.
      Lucky me. I got to see him perform it live too.
      I bet that Tchaikovsky concerto brought a lot of fans to classical music.
      Thanks for reading and replying.
      The Ear


      Comment by welltemperedear — October 9, 2015 @ 8:14 am

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