Early Encounters with Music

Biographic Notes

2011-07-08 — Original posting (on Blogger)
2014-10-27 — Re-posting as is (WordPress)
2016-06-18 — Brushed up for better readability

Table of Contents

Music in my Early Years

Up to primary school I did not pay that much attention to music. I listened to all the shallow music that was broadcasted on the radio around 1960. Our radio was an old “steam radio” built into a bookshelf. I also distinctly remember that on Sundays the radio always played classical music. Typically this was chamber music, such as music for wind instruments by Mozart. I hated that music! That was not because I disliked it, but more likely because on Sunday afternoons I was supposed not to be running around the houses, play football on the streets, etc. …

My teacher in 3rd and 4th grade played the harmonium. I got touched by this, particularly when around Xmas he pulled all the stops!

Secondary School, Starting an LP Collection

When I started playing the violin in secondary school, though, this rapidly changed my musical preferences. I soon made the decision to stop listening to popular music. This would not leave me enough time me to listen to the music that I now started enjoying. My parents also had a record player (connected to the “steam radio”) and a couple records. I still vividly remember how one evening, maybe 10 p.m., I could not sleep and got up again, sneaking around in the dark corridor. My parents were downstairs in the living room and just started playing a record. I immediately got “sucked in” by the beauty of the beginning of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4 in G major, op.58 (Rudolf Serkin / Eugene Ormandy — I was recently looking for that recording, but could not find it on CD).

From then on, records were prominent on my wish list for Xmas. Indeed, my first vinyl records were Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major, op.61 (David Oistrakh, Aleksandr Gauk — the early recording from 1939), and Beethoven piano sonatas (Sonata No.8 in C minor, op.13 “Pathétique; Sonata No.20 in G major, op.49/2; Sonata No.23 in F minor, op.57, “Appassionata) with Friedrich Gulda (the early recording from the 50s). That laid the foundation for a record collection that grew to almost 2000 records. All the money that I earned in my vacation jobs went into my record collection.

music collection

Music through the Radio

Besides listening to vinyl records, I listened to music whenever possible. I woke up with music, I listened to the radio or played my vinyls whenever I was in my room. I gradually expanded my interest and listening scope, back into medieval music (e.g., Gregorian Chant), and forward into music of the 20th century—up to composers such as Steve Reich (*1936), Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928 – 2007), or Helmut Lachenmann (*1935). But that’s essentially “it” — except for some very minor interest in Jazz, maybe, but no Pop, Rock, “world music” (who invented that term??). No Folk or other folkloristic music in general, no Rap ….

First Concert Experiences

The village in which I grew up didn’t have a good venue for concerts. But my parents took me to occasional concerts in the neighboring village, Schönenwerd. From the early 1960’s I remember Mozart’s Great Mass in C minor, K.427 in Schönenwerd’s Roman Catholic church, with Maria Stader (S), Margrit Conrad (A), Fritz Guggisberg (T, later the chorus master at high school), with the local Cäcilienverein and the Stadtorchester Winterthur. The conductor was Emil Häusler (1913 – 2014), later my music / violin teacher at secondary school. There was also a song recital with Beatrice Hirzel (soprano) and Walter Ramspeck at the piano, with Lieder by Hugo Wolf (1869 – 1903), among others (probably Schubert, Schumann as well?).

I must have been around 14 when we went to a concert with baroque chamber music (in Aarau, most likely). When my parents pointed to the harpsichord (played by Ernst Gerber, then the “local continuo man”), saying “Siehst Du das Cembalo?” (do you see the harpsichord?), I was totally perplex. I somehow had expected that a harpsichords looked like a cello, or maybe like a harp — but certainly not something resembling a miniature piano!

The first concert that I attended just by myself (in the late 1960’s) was a concert in Olten. It featured the Festival Strings Lucerne, conducted by Rudolf Baumgartner. I remember Vivaldi’s Concerto for 4 Violins & Strings in B minor, op.3/10 (RV 580) that I heard only partly and through the doors, as I had missed my train and was a little late. The next composition was Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C, featuring Klaus Heitz (* ca. 1942), a then young German soloist at the beginning of his career (now retired). I may later return to one or the other concert memories from Aarau, the city in which I went to high school, and of course Zurich —

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