I was 11 and in my first term at grammar school. It must have been very early in the term because I hadn’t yet made any friends. I’d been playing the violin for three years at primary school and was continuing with it at the new school – and I was generally interested in music although I knew very little about it. So when it was announced that the senior choir and orchestra were giving a concert I went. On my own.
A group of pretty talented, much older girls – they were all in the upper sixth – played the first movement of Bach’s Brandenburg concerto. (Bear with me and don’t ask the obvious question for a minute.) I loved it and was haunted by it for years but didn’t, in my youthful ignorance, realise that Bach wrote no fewer than six Brandenburg concerti. So it eluded me for a long time.
Fast forward six years. I was 17 and at the Festival Hall with a boyfriend listening to the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra. He was in his first year at university and had got comps via the music club without which I doubt we could have afforded to be there in best stalls seats. The SCO played three of the Brandenburgs that night and one of them, to my great joy, was ‘mine’. It was the 5th Brandenburg which had stayed with me all those years to such an extent that I recognised it instantly. Quite a cathartic moment. And of course as soon I as knew what it was I bought a recording.
So what was it that got me when I first heard it? I think it’s the memorable recurrent central tune coupled with the way Bach weaves in the solos. There’s so much detail and so much tension as the music inches back again and again to the refrain. You can feel it palpably, especially in that wonderful long harpsichord solo, even when you’re only 11 and know nothing at all of music theory and have heard hardly anything. That movement still gets me in the guts every time I hear it. And I’m still finding ‘new’ things in it. If by any chance you don’t know it you can enjoy a rather nice version of it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnjqGhAlFzs
And the moral of this story? Poetry, as TS Eliot observed, can communicate long before it is understood. So can music. And don’t underestimate what children can be moved and/or excited by.