Various forms of the records-that-changed-my-life meme have been making the rounds lately, so I came up with my own version, which I call “The Twenty-Five Record Albums That Changed My Life.” Throughout the coming month, I’ll write about one of these albums every weekday in the order in which I first heard them, starting in 1968:1. Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony (“Pathétique”), performed by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra (RCA)
This is the first record album I bought with my own money. It came out in 1968, the year I started going to junior high school. I know why I chose this particular version: Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra had just signed a recording contract with RCA, and his remake of the “Pathétique” was on sale at the only music store in Smalltown, U.S.A., that carried classical records. I don’t know why I opted for Tchaikovsky over, say, Beethoven or Mozart, but I probably heard the piece on TV at some time or other and was swept away by its heart-on-sleeve romanticism, which was made to thrill sensitive, susceptible twelve-year-old eggheads like me.Within a few years, alas, I’d turned my nose up at Tchaikovsky (I was quite the little music snob in college). Fortunately, I soon came to my senses and realized the truth of this remark by Benjamin Britten: “I’ve always inclined to the clear and clean—the ‘slender’ sound of, say, Mozart or Verdi or Mahler—or even Tchaikovsky, if he is played in a restrained, though vital, way.” Britten said this in 1944, at a time when the notion of performing a piece like the “Pathétique” in a “restrained, though vital, way” was alien to most musicians, Ormandy included. Not until much later did tastes in Tchaikovsky interpretation start to shift. Once I’d heard the “Pathétique” played by Arturo Toscanini, I knew there were other, better ways to perform his music. Nevertheless, it was Eugene Ormandy who first got me through the door, for which I will forever be in his debt.
(To be continued)