Boston Symphony Tour, Day 8: Berlin to Leipzig

A Musical Challenge

There being no concert for us in Leipzig tonight and no insurmountable challenges from inscrutable bathroom fixtures, I turned my attention to communications sent me by a friend of mine from Boston and a cousin living in England. Each separately sent me the link to this provocative challenge thrown down by The New York Times, called “5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Classical Music.” The Times asked a bunch of well-known musicians and music journalists the following question: “What are the five minutes or so — longer than a moment, shorter than a symphony — that you’d play for a friend to convince them to fall in love with classical music?”

Here’s the link:

My friend and cousin asked my opinion, which I offer at the end of this essay. But first of all, I think some of the responders were answering a different question than the one that was asked. The response many of them gave answered the question: What’s your favorite piece of music and why? Wrong question. In fact, as someone who has been as passionate about classical music and has performed as much of it as anyone for over half a century, I’d have to say that some of the choices in the Times article made me want to avoid listening to classical music like the plague.

I told my Boston friend and my cousin my personal choice. My Boston friend did not agree, which is very common for us, regardless of the topic. He wrote, “as seducers to classical music, from an emotional perspective, I’ll go with Bach double violin concerto, 2nd movement; or Beethoven 7th Symphony, 2nd movement; or Beethoven Violin Concerto, pick your five minutes.”

Screen Shot 2018-09-08 at 10.23.47 AM

JS Bach

Screen Shot 2018-09-08 at 10.24.59 AM

L. van Beethoven

I will agree that those three compositions are sublime, the pinnacles of classical music. It’s hard to imagine anything more beautiful or moving. And if your friend happens to be a highly intelligent, sensitive, cultured person who somehow has not been aware of the existence of classical music all her/his life, maybe those compositions will be the very ones to open the doors to a whole new world of beauty.

But my feeling is that I doubt most people who don’t enjoy classical music (which is most people); who believe classical music is an esoteric conceit of highbrow, rich, elitists; who watch every college football game every Saturday on their iPhones; who schedule their day around The Biggest Loser; and whose closest contact to classical music is Randy Travis, will be moved by subtly nuanced strains of Bach and Beethoven.

Screen Shot 2018-09-08 at 10.26.38 AM

R. Travis

No, sir. The hook that will most successfully land the uninitiated listener requires irresistibly tasty bait. In other words, something big and brassy and if at all possible with loud drums. Something like hot Cheetos that’s so appealing it’s addictive.

Screen Shot 2018-09-08 at 10.31.02 AM

H. Cheetos

Here’s my choice. It isn’t by any means my favorite piece of music, but everyone who has ever heard it wants to hear more classical music: the opening of Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra.

Screen Shot 2018-09-08 at 10.25.35 AM

R. Strauss

Discussion over.

Or not. What do you think?


I’d also welcome your opinion of my short story series, MISTER E’S MYSTERIES. The critics have called them “sparkling gems of the mystery genre,” but what do they know?









6 thoughts on “Boston Symphony Tour, Day 8: Berlin to Leipzig

  1. Dick Hercules

    Dear Jerry, I sure agree with your choice of music, but then I saw 2001 a space odessey. I did enjoy listening to the N Y Times music selections while watching a muted college football game. It was quite an experience. Also I am impressed with your ability to use the internet. Gail

    Sent from my iPad



  2. ccyager

    Oh. my. god. When I first read the challenge question, I thought something by John Williams, like the opening to Star Wars or the music from Schindler’s List. Then I thought, NO! It has to be Richard Strauss, that composer that every movie soundtrack composer emulates and copies (as well as Gustav Holst) and wants to be! Of course. The opening to Also Sprach Zarathustra, otherwise known as 2001: A Space Odyssey. Great minds! (smile)


  3. frances dearman

    On teh subject of music that is compelling:

    When I worked at an archaeological dig in Jordan, back in 1995, the Bedouin workers would ask me to sing Big Mama Kate’s gem, “Stars Shining Bright Above You, Night breezes seem to whisper I love you, Birds singing in a sycamore tree………” They never tired of it…..

    Me, if there was only one more piece of music I could hear, I’d choose Brahms Academic Overture, where he tears into Gaudeamus Igitur….

    Or the rustle of leaves in a summer zephyr….

    Be well, Fran

    Rev. Fran Dearman, newly retired from active ministry, at home in Victoria BC. I read e-mail at random intervals, at the Public Library; if your message is time sensitive, please telephone: home study land line: 250.592.4835 dire emergency cell phone: 1.778.835.8616



  4. damoneramone

    Nice post. I think to pull in a new listener, you’re spot on—the hook, the big riff. Beethoven’s 5th, 1st movement, opener; Prokofiev, Dance of the Knights; Khachaturian, Masquerade Waltz; Mozart, Jupiter. And the Strauss you recommend, I agree. The pop cultural connection frequently pulls people in, if they heard it in Master and Commander or Platoon and associate the sound with strong images. The heavy metal fans (on the Metallica level) are nearly effortless to turn—a little Beethoven and Paganini and they’re in. A more direct route for many was Amadeus, especially the first movement of the 25th Symphony and the Requiem.


    1. eliaspattn Post author

      Good point. The association of classical music with popular media can be a game changer. I don’t know how old you are, but when I was a kid everything from Saturday morning cartoons, to TV Westerns, to nightly new,s to commercial advertisements all used classical music. Everyone knew Rossini’s William Tell Overture from the Lone Ranger and the scherzo from Beethoven’s 9th from the Huntley-Brinkley news program. (That these programs paid little or nothing for use of the music was no doubt part of the equation, but still they did classical music a service that has gone almost fallow.)

      Liked by 1 person


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s