Classical music - starting points

Various posts in a number of threads, most recently "Audiophiles who refuse to listen to classical" suggest there are a number of people who are looking to find a way to get into classical music. I thought it might be worthwhile if some of us who have found a way, even stumbled into one perhaps, could give some advice. If possible we might try to recall what first hooked us on classical music, identify the piece and, if relevant the performance, and describe what grabbed our attention.

I hope that others will use this as a guide to pick an approach which fits their musical tastes.

I'll start with three critical pieces for me.

Beethoven's 7th Symphony, Second Movement, Bruno Walter conductor. This was 11th grade, and quite simply the first time I was ever moved by a piece of classical music. I was caught up in the force, the drama, the inevitability of the music.

Mozart Symphony 35, George Szell conductor. I think this was as a sophomore in college. The sheer energy, the exuberance and speed of the piece had me putting it on repeat in a manner previously reserved for the Beatles.

Mussorgsky/Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition, Fritz Reiner conductor (my current favorite version). The color and shattering power of the orchestra. I bought into CDs early and for a while my favorite track was The Great Gate at Kiev, the last portion of Pictures, from a demo disk that came with my player. I'm surprised I wasn't thrown out of my apartment.

While my tastes have broadened since then, each of these three works still remains a favorite.
I guess I started out with the Willam Tell and the 1812.Most all Rossini overtures esp.the Theiving Magpie are all pretty good places to start. The Emperor is my fav Beethoven piano concherto.--The slow movement is sublime.Just about all the Mozart piano conchertos #17 and on up. The Rackmaninoff #2 piano is also up there with the very best.And leave us not forget Beethoven 9th.Then if you want to test,just how "full-range" your speakers are plop any of these in your player. (vinyl is better,if possible)Bach's Toccata and fugue along with Franck,Widor and Gigout organ pieces. Rent the movie Amadus---If that don't get it for you;well you need more time.
Disney's Fantasia, on a good HT system. Variety, and the images may help arrest newbie's attention. Also, Allegro non tropo. This isn't what hooked me, though. I was lucky enough to land in a dorm full of classical music grad students when I was 17. First peces that got me were Beethoven Moonlight Sonata and Emporer Concerto (Serkin; Serkin/Bernstein on Columbia) and Tchaikowski 5th Symphony, can't remember the recording -- it was my tuba playing roommate's.

Also, go to hear some live!
I am thankful for being intruduced to classical music some 20 years ago. It is a large world to investigate but the returns have been great. The emotion and variety is greater in this arena than in any other area of music. The first piece that wet my appetite was Peter Tchaikovsky's 1812 overature (although not one of his favorites). I think a good place for music that is accessable is almost anything from Franz Joseph Hyden or Mozart. I think generally (of course with many exceptions)that the Germans are to classical music what the French are to art.

The following list represents music that I believe is easily accessable and a good start.

Modest Mussorgsky - pictures at an exhibition
Vivaldi - four seasons
Peter Tchaikovsky - Concerto for Violin #1
Concerto for Piano #1
Symphony #6
Franz Joseph Hyden - Symphonies 45, 101, 104
Ludwig van Beethoven - Concerto for Violin #1
Symphonies 3,4,5 &9
Piano concertos 3 &4
Piano sonatas (all)
Max Bruch - Violin concerto #1
Mozart - Piano concertos 20,21 & 23
syphonies 38,40 & 41
Hector Berlios - Symphonie Fantastique
Franz Schubert - Symphony #9
Pucini - Turandot, Madam Butterfly & La Boheme
Verdi - Aida
Georges Bizet - Carmen
I think that with classical music it is really essential to get a decent recording. Who performs it, and sometimes how well it was recorded, makes all the difference, whether you are starting out or have listened your whole life.

I find the customer reviews at are extremely helpful in this regard, and also extremely educational about classical music, and why people listen, and what they listen for.

Go to their home page; in the upper left pull down the "" bullet and scroll down to classical music, and start with a search on anything you know and like, say "Beethoven Symphony 5". Not only will a gazillion choices for that come up, but there will be many side bars leading you to other similar or not-so-similar classical CDs. I have spent many an enjoyable evening learning one heck of a lot there, and honing down my purchases to only the truly finest recordings (often amazingly cheap) of the truly finest music ever performed. Great way to get started. Enjoy.
Newbee, you are da man! That's a great list for neophytes and I agree with it 100%. If one were to stray either side of the Romantic period I would be forced to add these as my next ten choices:

1. "Concierto de Aranjuez" - Rodrigo

2. "Piano Concerto, Opus 20" - Scriabin

3. "Rhapsody in Blue" - and other Gershwin works

4. the Gilbert & Sullivan highlights CD on Telarc

5. "Mass in B-Minor" and bunches of others - Bach

6. "Rite of Spring" and "The Firebird" - Stravinsky

7. "Concerti Grossi," "The Messiah," and more - Handel

8. Symphonies - William Boyce

9. "West Side Story" and "Candide" - Bernstein

10. "Madama Butterfly" (opera) - Puccini

Don't forget the last three symphonies by Mozart (oops! that's eleven!)