Back in 2004, I wrote a list of (what I now call) “musical shiver moments.” A musical shiver moment is a moment in a musical track that hits you with special emotional force (perhaps sending a shiver down your spine). It can be the climax of a pop song, or the beginning of a catchy riff, or a particularly well-conceived mood shift, etc.
A classic example is the moment the drums finally enter in Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” Another is the chord shift for the final performance of the chorus in Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.”
(Note that for most of these shiver moments to have their impact, you need to listen to all or most of the track up to that point, first. You can’t just jump right to the shiver moment.)
It’s been over a decade since I made my original list. Here are a few more I’ve discovered since then:
- “Solo begins” – Carla Bley – Escalator Over the Hill: Hotel Overture – 7:45
- “The world crumbles” – Arvo Pärt – Tabula Rasa: Ludus – 7:20
- “I knew nothing of the horses” – Scott Walker – Tilt: Farmer in the City – 5:22
- “The riff enters” – Justice – Cross: Genesis – 0:38
- “Desperate cry” – Osvaldo Golijov – The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind: Agitato – 7:00
- “Sudden slices” – Klaus Schulze – Irrlicht: Ebene – 9:30
- “The theme enters” – John Adams – Grand Pianola Music: On the Great Divide – 2:20
- “Swelling” – M83 – Hurry Up We’re Dreaming: My Tears Are Becoming a Sea – 1:11
- “The sweet” – Anna von Hausswolff – Ceremony: Red Sun – 2:10
- “Drums enter” – The Shining – In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster: Goretex Weather Report – 1:05
- “Entrance” – Ryan Power – Identity Picks: Sweetheart – 0:05
- “Tone added” – Jon Hopkins – Immunity: We Disappear – 2:20
- “Verse 2 begins” – The Fiery Furnaces – EP: Here Comes the Summer – 1:30
- “Tonight” – Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE: Pyramids – 5:22
- “Electronic instruments solo” – James Blake – James Blake: I Never Learnt to Share – 3:40
- “Guitar solo peaks” – Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid: Cold War – 2:11
- “Surprising transition” – Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: Lost in the World – 0:59
- “Soprano rising” – Henryk Górecki – Symphony No. 3: 1st movement – 15:57
- “New instrument enters” – Fuck Buttons – Tarot Sport: Surf Solar – 5:18
- “Into the final stretch” – Lindstrøm – Where You Go I Go Too: Where You Go I Go Too – 22:46
- “New instrument” – Modeselektor – Happy Birthday!: Sucker Pin – 3:10
- “Rising” – Glasvegas – Glasvegas: Ice Cream Van – 3:30
- “Quiet after the storm” – Howard Shore – The Fellowship of the Ring: The Bridge of Khazad Dum – 4:57
- “Finale” – John Adams – Harmonielehre: Part I – 17:01
- “Chorus” – Phantom Planet – Phantom Planet: Knowitall – 1:06
- “Suddenly, a groove” – Herbie Hancock – Crossings: Sleeping Giant – 11:09
- “You thought this track couldn’t get any more epic. You were wrong.” – Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!: We Drift Like Worried Fire – 18:48
- “One of my favorite melodies, 2nd time” – Jean Sibelius – Symphony No. 5: 3rd movement – 1:55
(The time markings for the classical pieces will be off for some performances/recordings, naturally.)
What are some of your musical shiver moments?
…added after initial publication of this post:
- “From percussion to melody” – Nils Frahm – Spaces: For / Peter / Toilet Brushes / More – 14:49
- “Final atmospheric passage” – Dave Douglas – Dark Territory: Loom Large – 4:57
- “One last time” – John Murphy – Adagio in D Minor: Adagio in D Minor (2012 Remaster) – 3:04
- “Building groove” – Tonbruket – Forevergreens: First Flight of a Newbird – 3:19
- “Is this the climax yet?” – Blanck Mass – World Eater: Rhesus Negative – 7:44
- “Panic” & “Double time” – The Algorithm – Polymorphic Code: Panic – 3:32 & 6:51
- “Explosion” – The Great Harry Hillman – Tilt: 354° – 2:37
- “Voices rise” – Eskaton – 4 Visions: Ecoute – 5:52
- “After a brief pause” – Frederik Magle – Anastasis-Messe: Tenebrae / Lux Aeterna – 2:41
- “Solo peaks” – Phish – A Live One: Stash (Clifford Ball 1994) – 11:05 & 11:32
- [more to come]
Here are just a few of my shiver moments from this year:
* The end of the final movement of Mozart’s 41st symphony (“Jupiter”).
* The end of the third movement of Schumann’s piano concert in a-minor.
* The waltz in the middle of the scherzo in Malcolm Arnold’s 5th symphony.
* The pedal note passage of the short piece “La Vanlo” from Jacques Duphly’s suite for cembalo.
Most of my shiver moments have come not from classical but from contemporary music. Here’s just one recent example:
* The first theme of Carl Mörner Ringström’s “47 Ronin”
Spotify links and approx. times
– Schumann: https://open.spotify.com/track/63lmAqmSLZTTlS6tUYmzco (9.40 – 9.50)
– Mozart: https://open.spotify.com/track/22TB9CY5BIiHpm80E7dNox
– Duphly: https://open.spotify.com/track/1e1ma6Kkn9uKuT0g1QUckO (first time around 0.40)
– Mörner Ringström: https://open.spotify.com/track/07EuQe8V9uReWd0NjMexxg (0.45 – 1.15)
I completely agree that most shivers depend on you having first heard the entite piece up to that point. I wrote a blog post about that a while back, where I also speculated that digital media makes it too easy to cherrypick moments and therefor actually robs both artist and listener of sime amount of shivers. Unfortunately, that post is in Swedish.
David Bowie’s I’m Afraid Of Americans – the change to the God is An American chant. I’m not a big fan of the rest of the song, actually, but that ending…
I’ve been following your online work for a couple of years. The variety of your interests from audio commentaries to Bergman movies to philosophical podcats is very inspiring!
As for shiver moments, one that has stayed with me for more than 20 years (I don’t seem to get tired of it) is the spectacular entry of Frank Zappa’s guitar in “Eat that Question” from “The Grand Wazoo”:
https://open.spotify.com/track/6L7nJgTWT2fNp4dcHtvYBy (solo starts around 3:15)
Anthony Braxton’s Six Compositions Quartett 1981 album(Antilles label) is one big shiver moment for me from beginning to end. I jokingly refer to it as Braxton’s Greatest Hits. Unfortunately, it’s been out of print for some time and it isn’t available on streaming and download services. (However, it can be found online with relative ease through inofficial channels.) On discogs the vinyl costs around 20 Dollars incl. shipping and there’s also a CD version.
I’ve heard the 1981 Braxton album, and found it to be roughly as cold and impenetrable as most of the rest of his work. 🙂
Nick Reymann says
I’ve heard this song probably a thousand times and this part always gives me chills: the synth whoosh and silence following “Guitar’s gonna sound like a nuclear destruction” from Final Solution by Pere Ubu
Elijah Armstrong says
The opening of Yes’ “Yours is no Disgrace” is a shiver moment for me (and unlike the ones you listed, it opens the track). Another is the beginning of the third “movement”, with the slow piano riff, in “Out-Bloody-Rageous” (around the 11-minute mark, IIRC).
Bob B. says
Wow I’m not the only one that lives for these spine-shivering musical moments! I have so many, but I’ve never written them down so methodically. I’ll have to start! I enjoy many types of music (classical, jazz, pop, indie, celtic, experimental, Indian, traditional eastern, etc., etc.) and continually seeking more types of music to discover.
But for this specific topic – shivers-down-your-spine – a couple of standard classical music works stand out, and always have stood out, in my mind and heart (and spine!):
The finale of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, especially when the organ makes its first entrance. I’ve been listening to this for at least two decades and never get tired of that moment! Actually, it is much more than a moment – the final 3 minutes consists of a climax that leads to a climax to a climax, and so on and so forth. My spine tingles the entire time. Cannot say enough about this entire symphony (well, I could do without the third movement, but the other movements are some of the finest music every written/performed)
The last chords of the 4th movement of Mahler’s 2nd also raise the hairs on my back. This is a very contemplative movement. The final chords are pure Mahlerian genius. Be forewarned … the next movement comes in with a CRASH and can bring you out of your moment and back to reality in a very harsh manner 😉
Mahler chimes in again with his very famous (and deservedly so) fourth movement from his 5th Symphony. This is about 12 minutes of gorgeous, rich, dense chords that take you through an emotional journey of your choosing. Several spine-tinglers throughout this one.
The finale of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, particularly when the harp enters, is most definitely a spine-tingler. I recently posted this comment on youtube about it: “excellent recording of an intensely emotional work of art! I agree with Helen .. the harp repose in the last minute is brilliant. Any other composer would have simply ended the piece at 8:45, but Tchaikovsky touchingly brings us through one last soul-searching emotional roller-coaster before finally bringing out the big guns for the final chords. When all is over I just want to lay down and sob for all eternity.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZcSZ_-2fQg)
A tingler from the jazz world is from Don Ellis’ Variations for Trumpet (for big band). This piece (and all of Ellis’ music for that matter) are severely underrated except by a small but fervent community of fans keeping his musical ideas alive. Much of his music is raucous. All of it is experimental, especially with unusual time signatures. But Variations for Trumpet stands apart .. it really is a symphony of increasingly complex time signatures, melodies and harmonies. When it finally comes back to the recapitulation of the main theme, a spine tingling moment hits you as you realize Ellis has just brought you on a wonderful journey, at times joyous, other times bittersweet, but at all times intensely emotional. I have been listening to this work of art since 1979 and it has never lost its lustre.
Some other examples: Lida Rose from the Music Man soundtrack. Over the Rainbow from the Wizard of Oz soundtrack. The end of the ballet scene from An American in Paris soundtrack. Several tracks from celtic band Dervish’ album Harmony Hill. Koyal by Nitin Sawhney. Tiger Phone Card by Dengue Fever (when the female singer, whose voice I *love*, sings ‘throw my arms around you … and never let go’). Any time Allison Krauss sings is a spine-tingler for me (makes my knees week too!)
Stuart Buck says
Not classical, but:
Dead Vail, “Shoreline,” at 3:24 and the next minute or so, when the singer uses this high falsetto. https://youtu.be/1NPDHrcBxLM
Marc Martel, “Paradise,” at 2:55
That’s incredible how much our tastes of music can be similar…
A little selection of shivers moments :
Joanna Newsom, Emily 06:00
Board of canada, Music is math 00:00
Dereck Sharke Tundra Songs 15:00
Mozart Requiem, Introitus : Kyrie 00:00
Verdi, Nabucco, Act 3 introducione 00:30
and many others !
Christopher Sahnwaldt says
Minor correction: The name of the piece by Klaus Schulze is not “Satz Ebene”, but “1st movement: Ebene” or just “Ebene” (German for “plain” (geography) or “plane” (mathematics)). See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irrlicht_(album)#Notes for a few more details about the meaning of “Satz” in this context.
The same error also occurs (twice) in https://lukemuehlhauser.com/how-to-fall-in-love-with-modern-classical-music-4/ .
Thanks! I had never bothered to learn that. I’ll fix now.