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"Great Moments" in Music - A Design for Evaluating?

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Many, many years ago I had only one personal friend who shared my passion for classical music. He told me that a music teacher he had once told him that there were only 12 "Great Moments" in music. Six of them were by Bach and the other six were by Brahms.

This was very easy for me to disagree with, even though as a Brahms-fanatic, I was secretly pleased. But, I always used to wonder - "What six moments in Brahms' music did he have in mind?" My friend told me that the teacher could never be induced to say.

I naturally assumed that by "Great Moments" he had meant "Chill-inducing Moments". If I were to pick six chill-inducing moments in Brahms' output today, I would have to include the "All Flesh is Grass" chorus from the Requiem. At the time, however, I had not heard this work. So my guess then was:

1) The coda from the first movment of the First Piano Concerto.
2) The entrance of the male chorus in the Alto Rhapsody
3) The climax of the Tragic Overture
4) The climax of the final movement of the Third Symphony
5) The ending of the first movement of the Fourth Symphony
6) The ending of the final movement of the Fourth Symphony

Of course, I was probably wrong on all counts. Maybe "Great Moments" didn't mean "chill-inducing". Maybe it meant something else. For all I know, four of the teacher's six "moments" were from Brahms' chamber music.

Nevertheless, this old topic occurred to me recently as I was thinking about the TC forum discussion on Ranking Beethoven's Symphonies. The odd thing that occurred to me when I did my ranking is that "Great Moments" had nothing to do with my rankings. The 4th, for example, ranked very high on my list despite having no real "chill-inducing" moments. At the bottom of my list was the 3rd, despite the fact that it has at least two such moments for me.

So, it occurred to me that "Great Moments" might be further broken down into subcategories:

1. Highest - Chill-inducing
2. Next - Cumulative (a natural, logical or seemingly inevitable progression to a very satisfying conclusion)
3. Finally - Something aurally fascinating (this could be a particularly pleasing combination of instruments, a fascinating chord or chord progression, or a special theme or motive)

This still doesn't quite explain my Beethoven rankings, since the 3rd has both points 1 & 2 and the 4th is only loaded with point 3, but it gives me an idea of a better way to assess my personal reactions to any piece of music I hear.

Plus, it's honest. There are a lot of other things that can make a work great. I once listened to a lecture on Brahms' Second Piano Concerto that was really eye-opening when it came to clever thematic development and how to build a composition from the mere grain of a rhythmic/melodic idea. I came away with a lot more respect for this work, but it still isn't in my Top 3 Brahms' works. So, what I've stated above it just a way to assess my unique and personal reactions.

Thanks for letting me ramble...
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  1. guythegreg's Avatar
    Gosh! I love it! Ramble more, please!

    I don't know Brahms well enough to think up too many chill inducing moments, but I have to say, the opening bars from either the first or the fourth symphony always get to me pretty sorely. Boom - boom - boom - boom - boom - boom - I mean it looks boring in type but in music it's pretty effective.