I was twelve, maybe, or perhaps thirteen. I was living with my mum in a small village in Lincolnshire and I guess life was pretty sheltered there. In the days before internet, living in a village with poor transport connections really did limit the breadth of life experience. I knew only what I knew, and what I knew was pretty limited.
I was already playing a musical instrument – the much maligned Tenor Horn – and was an almost obsessive member of the village Silver Band. Like most amateur silver (or brass) bands, the repertoire was mainly a mix of military marches and rescored medleys from musicals and films. I loved it, but I knew very little about classical music.
And then one day, my mum bought me the first issue of a new publication called ‘Great Composers and their Music’. The format was a magazine stye booklet with an LP or a cassette attached, and part one was Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
And, wow! Just wow. I’d never heard anything like it. I never knew music could sound like that. There was a power behind what I was hearing, an immediacy, just something I felt so very strongly but couldn’t even begin to describe. I listened to it all, and listened again, and then listened to it again.
I remember taking the dog for a walk and thinking – in a way I still can’t describe – that I’d never look at the sky, or a tree, or a field, in quite the same way. I had just had no idea that a piece of music could touch you in such way.
It’s easy to dismiss this symphony now as an overly familiar piece and I can’t quite now understand what it was in this piece that was so significant to me at the time. But if I sit down and clear my mind and try to listen with fresh ears, I can recapture some – just a little – of that feeling.
But I think it was the fourth movement that grabbed me. The power of the scoring, and the effect of the first orchestral work I’d ever really listened to, simply made me want to listen to as much music as I could and find out more about it.
In a way, I’m sad my tastes have moved on and I can no longer be rooted to the spot by this piece. These days it might take a Mahler symphony to give me the same feeling about the scoring or about the power of the orchestra, but I still wouldn’t have that overawed feeling. And I will always have a very soft spot for Beethoven 5…
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