Great Beginnings

There’s a literary parlor game: can you name a famous novel from just its first word? It sounds impossible, perhaps, but some novels have opening lines famous enough to make this a potentially amusing pastime. For example, for those who know their classic American novels, the challenge word “Call” might elicit the opening sentence of Moby Dick: “Call me Ishmael.” Or–staying with English, but not America–“It” might well evoke Dicken’s famous “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” from A Tale of Two Cities.

You can see that there are a few conditions needed for this to work as a game. The novel must be well-known, it must have a distinctive opening line, and it must not give away too much (by, say, beginning with a prominent character’s name.) Ideally, there should be only one solution–though that is perhaps not necessary. Jane Austen fans, presented with “It,” would surely recall not Dickens, but the opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

It–there’s that word again–occurred to me that the same thing would work with music. Indeed, it might work better, as the first sonority of a piece, notated, actually contains a great deal more information than just a single word, and is more distinctive. In addition to the actual sonority, there’s the relation to the key signature, there’s the language(s) of the tempo direction and expression marks, and there’s the instrumental designation–all can furnish helpful hints. Hence, “Great Beginnings.”

Below, I’ve quoted five beginnings–either of a whole multi-movement work, or (in one case) of a movement of one. Each is a celebrated opening, noteworthy or at least memorable in some fashion. How many can you name?

GB #1
Great Beginnings 1-1
GB #2
Great Beginnings 1-2
GB #3
Great Beginnings 1-3
GB #4
Great Beginnings 1-4
GB #5
Great Beginnings 1-5

I’ll reveal answers in a subsequent post–say, in a week or two. An additional challenge: can you propose any “Great Beginnings” of your own?