Growing up with classical music


Breakfast and Brandenburg

According to my parents, when I was a toddler, I referred to Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos1 as breakfast music. On Sunday my dad would often put these concertos on the record player. In Dutch, the word I used was even a little pun2, but that was just my toddler brain confused and not a sign of linguistic powers!

Fairy Tales and Brandenburg

No idea anymore which fairy tales were on the cassette tape3, but I do remember that the intermezzo was filled with parts from Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. Of course, as I was no longer a toddler, I recognized the music as familiar, it was played often, but I did not know the name of the pieces. For me it was still breakfast/fairy tale music.

Unfinished Smurfs

Also known as Gargamel’s theme, Schubert’s Unvolendete was another piece of classical music that we recognized growing up, but without knowing exactly how or what. Even now, when I hear this piece, I can see Gargamel from the Smurfs and I feel automatic pity for his cat, Azrael!!!
Start at 0:25 and imagine Gargamel walking around!

Il était une fois… l’homme

You’d think I was always listening to cassettes or watching tv, but less is true. However, when I was allowed to watch tv, it had to be good and educational. A busload of European tv agencies got together to create an iconic 70/80’s tv program4 for kids: Il était une fois. Hearing Bach’s Toccata & Fugue In D Minor, BWV 565 makes me want to rewatch these shows, but when I do, I cringe because the voices are so horrible. The program on human life is still interesting and I know my generation in Europe grew up thinking of our blood cells as little kids5 walking around and learning from grown up blood cell people!

Third of the Fifth

A movie that blew me away: Howard’s End, based on E.M. Forster’s book of the same title. Gosh, the restraint in relations, the abandonment, the complexities and the acting. I even bought the cassette6 with its soundtrack. One of the few cassette tapes I took with me when I spent a year in the States.
Everyone knows Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, at least the first section, but thanks to this movie, I fell in love with its third movement, the Allegro. Give it a few bars and then it starts. The music sweeps you from one end to another, identical to the swirls and confusion of the book.

Why all this?

Of course, I am not the only kid growing up hearing plenty of classical music7 at home, but lately even on Dutch tv, there have been accessible programs on and about classical music without being all fuddy-duddy.
There was a whole section of shows from NTR Academie, presented by Mike Boddé, of which my favorite is about Bach (small wonder!). And another series, De Tiende van Tijl tries to bring classical music into the open, with different themes or composers each week. They even held a contest for a new Queen of the Night!

When I watch these programs, I think of all the classical music I have listened to while growing up, without knowing exactly what each piece was. I simply learned to appreciate it without the heaviness or intellectual poofiness that is so often associated with these scores.
And because my ears are so in tune to the variety out there, even now when I hear music I’ve listened to often—even outside of the days leading up to Easter—, hearing Bach’s Matthäus-Passion a few days ago again, I was struck by one section that I’d never really noticed before.

So beautiful, so breathtakingly gorgeous and so achingly devine: Sind Blitze, sind Donner in Wolken verschwunden8

Cover image: Antonio Castagna, Ensemble del Conservatorio di Brescia al Teatro Bibiena di Mantova

  1. Concertos 1-6, BWV 1046–1051. ↩︎

  2. I talked of ontbijtspekmuziek (breakfast bacon music), where I simply meant to say ontbijtmuziek (breakfast music). ↩︎

  3. Probably tales from the Brothers Grimm, but it could just have easily been from H.C. Andersen. ↩︎

  4. There would be four programs in total: Man, Space, Life and America. ↩︎

  5. I recommend watching the series, because this sounds too silly, but it makes sense, really, it does:↩︎

  6. If the post on the ZX Spectrum did not age me, this certainly will! ↩︎

  7. In all fairness, it was not all classical. Plenty of Beatles and Herman van Veen, mixed in with French Chansons … ↩︎

  8. Matthäus-Passion, BWV 244, Erster Teil: 27b. Chorus I & II “Sind Blitze, sind Donner in Wolken verschwunden” ↩︎