We ask our players and staff which single movements from classical music works really move them, be it emotionally or physically. Discover some new favourites below.
Listening to a piece of music for the first time, in a live concert, is something that never fails to resonate deeply with me. I have many memories of great emotional intensity from this kind of experience. Among these, one of the fondest I have is my first exposure to the Mendelssohn String Octet, more specifically to its first movement. I was in a situation of great psychological unease when I went to the concert where it was going to be performed, one evening of the summer of 2015. There was a lot of clumsily suppressed chaos in my head, which in most circumstances would not have allowed any music in. This piece was the exception, and it could not have come at a better time.
The movement shows its exuberant nature immediately, with a tight syncopated rhythm underlying the fluid arpeggios of the first violin. The positivity of this piece is irreducible: even though the uncertainty of a minor key sometimes seems to disrupt the liveliness of the piece, these are ultimately opportunities for warm build-ups that take the piece back to major. The ensemble switches fluidly from accompanying a single part, to dialoguing within itself, to merging in massive blocks of sound, all while the underlying rhythm propels the music to the joyful explosion that mark the climaxes of the piece, and ultimately to its triumphant ending.
I was extremely surprised to find out that this piece was written by Mendelssohn in 1825, when he was 16, as a birthday present to his violin teacher Eduard Rietz. The peculiar ensemble was probably a form of experimentation inspired by the double quartet written by his contemporary Louis Spohr in 1823. How someone of such a young age could express himself so effectively is an extremely fascinating mystery to me. It is a work soaked with enthusiasm and hope, which inevitably drip into the listener’s mind. For me, it was a gift I did not expect, and I hope it will be the same for all those who have yet to discover it.
Find out more about Lorenzo here
I always dread being asked what my favourite piece of music is: there are so many pieces that I love, and all for different reasons, it’s impossible to choose just one. However, when asked to write about a movement that moves me, there really was only one piece that I could choose: the second movement from Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto. Every time I listen to it I have goose-bumps from start to finish and my attention is tethered through every twist and undulation of the melody. It’s one of the most affecting pieces I have encountered.
The movement begins with a gorgeous oboe solo (another reason I fell in love with the piece!) that is picked up by the cellos and other parts of the orchestra. It’s a long time before the solo violin is introduced and an even longer time before it plays the melody. Instead, the violin, when it enters, feels more like a monologue or internal commentary which gives an intimate feel to the piece even through the big dramatic moments. The melody is extraordinarily heartfelt and travels through many different emotions - sometimes sorrowful, powerful, tense - but what ties them all together is how raw each feeling is, and how tangible.
I first encountered the concerto when I was a member of the Hampshire County Youth Orchestra. I wasn’t expecting to like it because the violin is not one of my favourite instruments but I was captivated from the first rehearsal and I’ve never been so pleased to be proved wrong! The piece sends me into a reflective mood and I used to shut my eyes and get lost in all that was happening around me. I may have missed my entry a few times…
Find out more about Laura here
It may be stating the obvious, but playing as part of an orchestra is a pretty unbeatable way to get to know and experience a piece of music. For a trumpet player, it doesn’t get much better than sitting in the midst of a brass section playing the final movement of Sibelius’ Symphony No.2. Whilst studying at the University of Edinburgh I had the opportunity to play this piece with my university symphony orchestra, and I don’t think I’ve enjoyed – or been as moved by – rehearsing and performing any other piece more. One slight technical hitch for me when playing Symphony No.2 is the fact that it pretty much always makes me cry (I may have just had a little weep whilst listening to it in preparation of writing this blog) and being in floods of tears can be a bit problematic when the entire climax of the symphony relies on you hitting those top notes right at the end.
It’s hard to avoid using metaphors to do with nature when discussing Sibelius, and I like to think of Symphony No.2 as climbing a mountain. The foothills of the symphony (the first movement) begin with a simple, rising, three-note motif, which reappears in many different guises throughout the work. The opening movement has a buoyant and quite cheerful mood, fitting for the beginning of an intrepid expedition. Our little three-note melodic friend goes through a lot along the way – icy storms and sometimes straying from the path – but by the second half of the third movement, the pinnacle of the symphonic peak is in sight.
There is no break in the music between the third and fourth movements, and to me the beginning of the final movement sounds like a glorious clearing of clouds. This is when the real fun starts for the brass section, with triumphant fanfares and heroic horn calls a-go-go. But just when you think the music can’t get any bigger or more breath-taking, IT DOES, and this false summit gives way to yet another dramatic climb to an even bigger climax. The final section of the symphony is a truly epic piece of music, and (to continue our mountain metaphor) is like looking back over how far the music has travelled throughout the symphony, as we finally hear the theme in full.
Not to state the obvious (again), but what is so special about this symphony for me is how it is just really good at the best things about the symphonic form – it starts somewhere, grows and develops along its journey, but is ultimately resolved. To get a bit more meta, this aesthetic progression is in some abstract way a unique attribute of music as a ‘time-based’ art form – it doesn’t just paint a picture, but instead carries us along with it through its progression and narrative. On a more tangible level, Symphony No.2 shows off Sibelius’ compositional knack for writing music that suits the sound of each instrument to perfection. Brass parts that gleam and shine, wind parts that swirl in gusts of icy air, string parts that sing straight to the soul. It just sounds really good – and maybe that’s why it’s a movement that moves me.
Find out more about Kate here