DECEMBER 30, 2012 05:03 PM

First Listen: Beethoven’s Ninth

By Ben Finane


I grew up in a working class household and was always told "classical music wasn't for people like us." I had a children's encyclopedia which I devoured cover to cover. They covered classical composers, and mentioned Beethoven's Ninth as the greatest symphony. I had to wait until I was fourteen and old enough to get an adult library card, which meant I could check out records. I could not believe anything could sound so beautiful. I listened over and over and dreamed of a better life. I was a teenager listening to classical music and being yelled at by my parents to "turn that noise down." I worked hard, got a scholarship and went to college (something I was also told wasn't for me) at the University of Pittsburgh, at which time I got a student ticket for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, at the time under William Steinberg. I was a subscriber there until my husband's job brought us to Southern California, and have been a subscriber to the Los Angeles Philharmonic ever since. I still can't believe anything can sound so beautiful!

Janet Campagna
Alta Loma, CA

Click here to comment

DECEMBER 21, 2012 09:40 AM

First Listen: Peter and the Wolf

By Ben Finane

I had eye surgery at age eight. I loved to read, so as a consolation for not being able to read for a month or two my parents gave me a record player along with a recording of Peter and the Wolf. As a high school student I took dates to the San Antonio Symphony. I'm still listening at age seventy-one.

Joe F.
San Antonio, TX

Click here to comment

DECEMBER 18, 2012 11:00 AM

First Listen: Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony

By Ben Finane

I was a kid watching a PBS Great Performances in which Leonard Bernstein conducted the New York Philharmonic in Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony. He conducted the piece with no score. He was jumping all over the podium. That performance made an immediate and lasting impression. I was fortunate that years later I played in an orchestra at a summer fine arts camp that performed the Fourth Symphony. I was really absorbed in performing that great work.

Damon Chu
Scottsdale, AZ

Click here to comment

DECEMBER 11, 2012 04:00 PM

First Listen: Mozart’s Symphony No. 40

By Ben Finane

I heard the pop travesty of Mozart's Symphony No. 40 near the end of the sixties, but some qualities of its wonderful musicality shone through even to my completely untutored ear. In university a few years later I listened to an orthodox version in the wonderful recreation library there and was smitten. After all these years it is still one of my greatest favorites, particularly — but my no means exclusively — in the recording by Sir Charles Mackerras made with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Ed Turner
Felixstowe, England

Click here to comment

DECEMBER 3, 2012 12:30 PM

First Listen: Pictures at an Exhibition

By Ben Finane


In the early '50s my mother purchased a modest stereo that was bundled with a demonstration disc of currently available RCA Victor LP offerings (I believe it was RCA). One of the selections was an exciting interpretation of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition finale: "The Great Gate of Kiev." I was mesmerized.

As soon as I could accumulate the requisite coin (which wasn't soon at all), I purchased the full LP and consumed it whole. Later, my mother's membership in the Columbia Record Club added a library of classical music to my education.

That Pictures disc eventually followed me to the boarding school that defined my high-school years. There, it seems, I revealed myself as the classical music bore that I was and some long-suffering school functionary pressed me (not to hard I suspect) into preparing and delivering an afternoon's soirée, discussing a few generalities of Mussorgsky's life, Hartmann's art, and Ravel's orchestration. A good time was had by me; I cannot speak for any others present.

Since then, I have accumulated a broad variety of Pictures recordings, including recitals of the original piano suite, various orchestrations, and one rock interpretation. I am still mesmerized.

J.A. Bowyer, Sr.
Santa Rosa, CA


Click here to comment

DECEMBER 1, 2012 12:15 PM

First Listen: Verdi’s Requiem

By Ben Finane

As a teenager, I listened to Broadway musicals. The liner notes to Sondheim's Sweeney Todd mentioned that the sinister organ music that opened that musical was taken from the "Catholic mass for the dead" but did not mention which setting. To my surprise the first Requiem I listened to (Mozart's, as it happened) sounded nothing like Sweeney Todd's organ music. Nor did the second one I heard (Fauré's), nor the third, Berlioz's. I decided to listen to all the Requiems I could find until I figured out which one the musical was referring to. The organ music from Sweeney Todd turned out to be from Verdi's Requiem — but that was the twelfth Requiem I found, nearly four years after I started searching. In the process, I grew to love choral music. (Eventually, I found some instrumental classical music I liked, too.)

Maureen G.
Edmonton, Canada


Click here to comment

NOVEMBER 25, 2012 11:30 AM

First Listen: Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2

By Ben Finane

At secondary school (I was about fourteen years old) I had to write a short essay about a musician. A friend had the disc (331/3 rpm) of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 and I listened it several times. Now, more than fifty-five years later, it is still one of my favorites. It was impressive to me that Rachmaninoff dedicated the Concerto to his doctor (a psychiatrist). It happened that I wanted to be a medical doctor, and today I am a doctor of medicine.

Victor J. Ojeda
Yokine, Western Australia

Click here to comment

NOVEMBER 20, 2012 10:05 AM

First Listen: Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte

By Ben Finane

I was a freshman in college, a small state school in New Mexico, and knew nothing about classical music. A friend had told me Ravel was wonderful and I felt romantic so bought the 45 record of Pavane for a Dead Princes. At once I was transported into a pleasant sadness, a feeling of loss and longing that absolutely expressed my sorrow at missing my family and home. It was also mixed with the sense of collegiate education — as it was classical and refined, you know.

I played it over and over until my roommate admitted she was going to either throw it or herself out the window. I put it away for a time, but still listened when she wasn't around. When I went home for Christmas I proudly told my three younger siblings I not only was becoming educated in college, but also had learned to appreciate classical music. Quite superior. They looked suitably impressed, or so I told myself.

Dee Longenbaugh
Juneau, AK

Click here to comment

NOVEMBER 19, 2012 12:10 PM

First Listen: Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony

By Ben Finane

While on a family vacation in Daytona Beach, I happened to see in the newspaper an ad promoting a concert by the London Symphony Orchestra that evening. As there wasn't a great deal for a teenager to do at night in a strange town, I decided to go. André Previn conducted; I was absolutely transported by the beauty, rhythm and the power of Rachmaninoff's Second Symphony. When I went to graduate school, I found a classical music station that exposed me to the whole gamut of classical music, and I have been enriched ever since.

Robert Warren
Newport News, VA

Click here to comment

NOVEMBER 16, 2012 11:17 AM

First Listen: Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik

By Ben Finane

One day in 1941, during World War II in Germany when I was ten years old, out of sheer curiosity, I worked up the courage to try out my parent's manual gramophone, something we children were strictly forbidden to do. I cranked it up, changed the needle and randomly picked out a (breakable) record (breakable) from their collection. It happened to be Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik. From the first sound I was totally mesmerized by that music. Sadly, there were only two of the four records intact; the others were broken. I had to wait until after the war to find out the rest of the piece. Can you imagine my agony, and then my exhilaration when I finally heard it played in full by a real orchestra? From that day on in 1941, after having confessed my transgression to my mother (my father was at the front), she allowed me to use the gramophone. I could not rush home from school fast enough every day to listen to "my" music. Strangely enough, I was never tempted to try any of the other records in that collection, which consisted of some opera, symphony and popular music. This Mozart piece was apparently all that was needed to induct me into the world of classical music for the rest of my life.

Ursula G.
Richmond, British Columbia, Canada

Click here to comment

NOVEMBER 15, 2012 10:00 AM

First Listen: Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade

By Ben Finane

Mother bought a series of cheap dollar-a-disc classical titles as part of a weekly grocery store promotion back in the early 1960s. The discs sat in a closet for months until one day (with nothing else to do and out of bored curiosity), I started thumbing through the titles. It must have been the cover art that attracted my attention — Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. I pulled the disc, played it and was hooked by the sheer musicality of the piece. Being a teenager, I most strongly associated with the third movement, The Young Prince and Young Princess, which I still think is a timeless expression of the thrill of new love and and the pathos of longing.

Mike W.
Washington, DC

Click here to comment

NOVEMBER 13, 2012 12:01 PM

First Listen: Copland’s Lincoln Portrait

By Ben Finane

Growing up in the country in Ohio, classical music was the farthest thing available to a sixteen-year-old, but my mother exposed me to classical music from age five on with voice and piano lessons, going to the "Community Concert" concerts that performed in small towns across the U.S., and the opera when the traveling Metropolitan Opera came to Cleveland, so I already liked classical music.

One evening I was driving home from an evening with friends. On the car radio was this amazing broadcast: excerpts of speeches and sayings of Abraham Lincoln read by a famous person and the music "behind" the sayings was fantastic. I wanted to find out what that music was so kept driving and driving in the country — those long country straight roads are endless — but I kept driving, turning around and listening, driving, turning around and waiting to hear about the music; the answer never came.

Defeated, I finally pulled into our driveway. I was determined to find out about it and went to our local record store and said "I heard music that was so fantastic! It had explosions of sound and chords, it was behind the writings of Lincoln. These explosions were wonderful...." Of course they didn't know what it was, laughed at me and said "Sorry!"

It wasn't until years later that I realized that it wasn't background music, but music combined with words to make a wonderful composition: Lincoln Portrait by Aaron Copland. I finally found that wonderful piece, but will never forget the eagerness of driving and driving and driving as a sixteen-year-old... just to find the name of that "background" music.

Carolyn
New York City

Click here to comment

NOVEMBER 6, 2012 05:20 PM

First Listen: Wagner’s Tannhäuser

By Ben Finane

As a ten-year-old saxophone player in the school band I was already into music, but not anything beyond simple marches and Overtures by Paul Yoder and Forrest Buchtel. One day I was walking by a small grocery store that had its windows open and its radio on, playing the Overture to Tannhäuser. I was lterally mesmerized by that melody, and within months of hearing it, I discovered the same melody in The "Pilgrim's Chorus" on my grandmother's old Victrola, the kind you cranked with a handle and which had wooden(!) needles, and the logo "His Master's Voice" acompanied by a spotted dog listening to a gramophone horn with its head askew. I remain a Wagnerite to this day, seventy-three years later.

Joe Gallagher, M.D.
Oak Lawn, IL

Click here to comment

NOVEMBER 5, 2012 10:19 AM

First Listen: Songs of Lidice

By Ben Finane

Growing up in Texas, I began piano lessons at age six. As my family listened to classical music on the radio and began taking me to concerts and opera when I was a wee lad, it is hard to remember exactly what one piece sparked my interest. But the first concert I can clearly remember from age seven was a Civic Music Association recital in which Jarmila Novotna ended the program with the heartbreaking Songs of Lidice. This was in early 1945 and there was probably not a single member of the audience who did not have one or more loved ones in uniform or in mortal danger somewhere in the world. There was not a dry eye in the house, and the extraordinarilly beautiful Novotna made an impression that I was never to forget. Ten years later, at age seventeen, I encountered Novotna again at a champagne supper after a performance of Die Fledermaus in which she sang Prince Orlofsky. A lady of real class, Novotna made a shy and awkward young teenager feel as important as anyone else at the party.

Rand Carter
Utica, NY

Click here to comment

NOVEMBER 1, 2012 11:44 AM

First Listen: Schumann’s Arabeske

By Ben Finane

My dad purchased an old 78 record of Schumann's Arabeske and began playing it every morning before going to work. I would wake up to that beautiful masterpiece every morning at the age of six. That piece — along with others of the Romantic era — inspired me to study the piano and later to earn an advanced degree in piano performance.

Gerald
Southern Utah

Click here to comment