The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Which piece of music did you first connect with emotionally and how old were you? | February 11, 2017

By Jacob Stockinger

Another weekend, another reader survey.

For The Ear, music was and remains much more an emotional experience than an intellectual one.

So he was intrigued when he came across a survey question on the Internet earlier this week.

The question was simple: When did you first connect emotionally with a piece of classical music and how old were you? And what was the piece and composer of the piece that you first connected with emotionally?

It sounds so easy. But The Ear found himself going back through time and really straining to choose the right answer.

Early on, The Ear loved the sound and drama of Smetana’s tone poem “The Moldau.” And he loved some works by Johann Sebastian Bach that he heard in church. During piano lessons, there was some pieces by Chopin.

But then at about age 11, the Great Emotional Awakening to Music came in a way that reminded him of the famous madeleine memory episode in Marcel Proust’s novel “Remembrance of Things Past,” translated more accurately, if less poetically, these days as “In Search of Lost Time.”

Since he himself was a young and aspiring pianist, The Ear has realized, he no doubt first connected with the powerful recording by Arthur Rubinstein (below top) of the Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18, by Sergei Rachmaninoff (below bottom). That recording also featured Fritz Reiner conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and you can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Arthur Rubinstein


The answer really isn’t a surprise — young people love the sweep of Romantic music. After all, on a lesser emotional level, Rachmaninoff had also moved The Ear with the famous Prelude in C-Sharp Minor — the “Bells of Moscow” — which spurred The Ear into starting piano lessons when he heard it played live and right in front of him by a babysitter.

How intently he listened to the concerto, with a friend in the basement of his friend’s house, over and over again. How it moved him and never failed to move him – and still moves him today.

And then, maybe at 12 or 13, he rushed out and bought the Schirmer score tot he concerto when he was old enough and skilled enough to try to play some of it – the famous opening chords and excerpts from the beautiful and lyrical slow second movement. That experience of playing even excerpts also proved very emotional.

Now, there is also a practical purpose to this question. The answer just might give adults an idea about how to attract young children and new audiences to classical music.

Anyway, that’s what The Ear wants to know this weekend:

How old were you when you first connected EMOTIONALLY to classical music?

And who was the composer, the piece and the performer that you connected with emotionally?

The Ear hopes you have just as much poignant fun recollecting the answer as he did.

Let us know the answer in the COMMENT section with a YouTube link if possible.

The Ear wants to ear.


  1. It’s hard to pick one piece but I’d have to say O Magnum Mysterium by Tomas Luis de Victoria, when I was in high school choir. I still use the opening line to remember what a perfect fifth is.

    Comment by Kurt Kaczmarek — February 15, 2017 @ 5:29 pm

  2. I must have been 12 or 13, it was Prokofiev’s ‘Classical’ symphony — I hadn’t realized until then how funny ‘classical’ music could be. I was laughing out loud.

    Comment by slfiore — February 13, 2017 @ 12:30 pm

  3. I must have been about 12 when I heard, for the first time, Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. I was at home on a Sunday morning, sitting on my bed and listening to my new Emerson FM radio , which picked up a classical station from Washington D.C. (we lived in Baltimore).
    There was a program sponsored by a Jewish organization, called something like “The Guiding Light”.
    I believe this was its theme.
    It was the most majestic piece of music I had ever heard, and moved me viscerally,in a way that no piece had, up to that point.

    Comment by Ann Boyer — February 12, 2017 @ 9:08 am

  4. Actually, I liked music long before but the first piece I can remember was Al & Pal, a trombone/baritone horn duet I played with a dear friend. That aside the most emotional piece was Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring played by the Minneapolis Symphony conducted by Stanislaw Skrovashevski. I had a study score with me & thought they played it perfectly but reading a review in the Minneapolis Star Tribune (?) later was astonished to learn the lead French Horn player made so many errors, he was almost fired.

    Comment by Larry Retzack — February 12, 2017 @ 1:52 am

    • Reviewers have been known to make mistakes. some quite frequently.

      Comment by FFlambeau — February 12, 2017 @ 4:21 am

  5. I have to second Genie’s thoughts about Leonard Bernstein and the famous “Young People’s Concerts” that were broadcast on CBS. He was an eyeopener and he appealed to lots of people who didn’t know much about classical music.

    He was not only an outstanding musician but a very effective teacher. I don’t think classical music–in all of its hundreds of years–has seen his mixture of skills before.

    Comment by FFlambeau — February 11, 2017 @ 7:13 pm

  6. 9th grade: I had just switched from clarinet in band to viola in the orchestra, taught myself (poorly) how to play, and after playing for just 6 weeks was suddenly thrust into the ensemble to play the annual Christmas pageant. First piece I played in class (and a playing test the next day–not pretty): Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah. One of my first real connections to classical music. Strangely enough, this rather harried experience did not turn me off for life Quite the opposite, in fact: I now teach high school music for a living.

    Comment by Steve Kurr — February 11, 2017 @ 5:08 pm

    • My feeling is that band teachers were/are often the most important influence on the development of most individual’s musical skills (and other areas too). They are extremely important in developing musical awareness (and more). So, well done Mr. Kurr.

      Comment by FFlambeau — February 11, 2017 @ 7:17 pm

  7. My parents tried to expose their five children to many kinds of music. Their album collection included vocal pop (Perry Como), rock (Elvis Presley), country (Jim Reeves), holiday music (a great collection from Readers Digest called Joyous Noel, a family favorite still, 50 years later), and classical music. I distinctly remember being home from school, ill. This was a time before media bombarded us with the dangers of the world and though I was in middle school I was home alone. I played on the Phillips console stereo record player a performance of Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony all day–yep all day, over and over. I still love that symphony. When the 1st movement horn fanfare returns in the 4th movement I still chill bumps every time. That may have set my love of the romantic repertoire, for though many think it sacrilege I prefer Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Bruckner, etc. orchestral work over Beethoven 🙂

    Comment by GuyS — February 11, 2017 @ 2:18 pm

  8. I was an early teenager when my older sister introduced me to Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe. We heard it on a friend’s stereo, a form of reproduction that we did not yet have.

    Comment by Betty Risteen Hasselkus — February 11, 2017 @ 8:28 am

  9. While in college I switched from Spanish to Russian for my foreign language requirement on a whim, but soon felt a strong attraction to Russian culture. Several years later a friend gave me a copy of Rachmaninov’s Vespers for my birthday, and the music was a revelation. It still stirs deep emotions in me whenever I hear it.

    Comment by Steve Holmes — February 11, 2017 @ 8:23 am

  10. I was late to classical music. It wasn’t until my first year in grad school that I was fortunate to have a roommate with a lot of classical records. But my first inkling that there was a whole world to explore was around my last years in high school.

    While studying Spanish, I heard an album of Renaissance Spanish organ music (I was also intrigued by the organ). I could not get out of my head the “Pavana con su glosa” of Antonio de Cabezon, as well as the Batalla Imperial of Juan Cabanilles. The first is a “simple” melody I had heard was often copied. Hear the Youtube link.

    It is amazing that, at least back in the 70’s, there was really no introduction to “classical” music given to kids up in the Green Bay area (as far as I know). I hope things have improved.

    Comment by David Salsieder — February 11, 2017 @ 8:04 am

  11. I was three years old when my mother played Sheharzade on the turntable. I couldn’t get enough. Also, I remember hearing a Divertimento by Mozart, one of the lesser known ones. Daniel Tarr

    Comment by Daniel Tarr — February 11, 2017 @ 12:57 am

  12. I was 6 when I started piano lessons. I remember knowing the theme of the Haydn Surprise Symphony, because of the loud part that was supposed to wake people up. So I had leaned to play the melody by ear on the piano.
    We would also watch Leonard Bernstein’s Young Peoples’ Concerts. I don’t remember a particular piece. But he was fascinating to watch. And on WHA, there was UW Music Prof. Frank Church’s radio show about the orchestra.

    Comment by Genie Ogden — February 11, 2017 @ 12:36 am

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