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The Lives of the Great Composers Hardcover – 1 Dec 1982

4.5 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 654 pages
  • Publisher: WW Norton & Co; New edition edition (1 Dec. 1982)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393013022
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393013023
  • Product Dimensions: 4.4 x 17.1 x 24.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 839,508 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

Extremely readable... well founded in scholarship and well written (TLS)

Panoramic, wittily detailed... equally pleasing to read from end to end, to dip casually, or to consult (NEW YORK TIMES)

Packed with fruity anecdotes (OBSERVER)

Peerless ... the first book any young music lover should read (GUARDIAN) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

* Best single-volume guide to composers now on the market. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the perfect introduction to the history of classical music, a fascinating and amusing mixture of biography, anecdote, musical analysis and social history. It gives a real insight into the development of the music, the alliances and rivalries between composers and the reaction of critics and the public to new compositions. The author writes with great authority but also with humour, a lightness of touch and a genuine enthusiasm for a vast range of music, coupled with a refreshing lack of bias in most cases - though the chapter on Mahler is an exception. I've owned a copy since 1985 and I can't remember how many times I've read it, either cover-to-cover, individual chapters or just dipping in from time to time. On Desert Island Discs, the castaway is allowed just one book (as well as the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare). This would be my book.
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Format: Paperback
The biggest relief reading this book has been that it avoids all the pompous musical analysis that often plague books on this subject. As a result, it manages to be both informative and readible...in fact I raced through it. An excellent starting point, from which the reader can go on to investigate particular composers in greater depth should they choose. Recommended.
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Format: Paperback
Written for a lay public, Schonberg explores both the music of the composers and their influences, from Monteverdi to the minimalists of the late 20th century. Beautifully written, the author clearly has an encyclopaedic knowledge of his subject which he conveys intelligently and passionately.
These are scarcely complete biographies - extensive pen portraits of the major composers, a few paragraphs on the lesser ones. Schonberg rather sets each composer in the context of their time - brief biographical notes being expanded by an analysis of their musical influences and an exploration of the themes and approaches which best characterise their work.
Schonberg has a highly entertaining style of writing. In general, his writing is completely absorbing, but he is capable of outrageous wit and acerbic asides. He combines the ability to inform with the ability to entertain. As such, it is a book you can read from cover to cover, or one which you can pick up and use as reference, glancing at a specific chapter or two.
The book conveys the voice of a great teacher. Schonberg inspires you to want to know more. Could Tchaikovsky really have been told to commit suicide? What was 'the phenomenon of tickling' which characterised a Liszt concert? Why was there so much excitement generated at the first rehearsals of 'Nabucco'?
This is decidedly a starter which will inspire you to learn more about the classical music world. As such, it is ahead of its time.
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Format: Paperback
Serves as both a great introduction to classical music and also as a quick reference work to dip into again and again. A vast subject is dealt with in an incredibly informative and entertaining way, and my understanding of music increased tenfold when I first encountered this monumental work.
I originally acquired this book in the late eighties and have returned to it many times over the intervening years. With a short chapter for each composer, the book's format lends itself to bite-size revisits.
There are also dozens of pieces of music I first listened to due to a mention in this book, and then subsequently understood the historical context in which the item was first produced.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Make no mistake this is a lively, witty, elegant and very well written book. This third edition was published in the mid-1990s and includes updated material on composers such as Handel (particularly the Operas). There are also new chapters on the serialist movement composers such as Cage, Boulez and Stockhausen as well as minimalists such as Adams and Glass. This third edition also looks at significant female composers such as Fanny Mendelssohn and Ethyl Smythe. The narrative is chronological, moving from Baroque through to the present day. Most chapters focus on individual composers but some take time out to look at the changing face of music. The chapter on Romanticism is particularly fine. There are wonderful anecdotes liberally sprinkled throughout so we see these composers as human beings blessed with extraordinary gifts. Beethoven's dark and dingy apartment, Berlioz at the theatre falling madly in love with Harriet Smithson, Schubert's odd little laugh,Chopin's hell on Majorca, Brahms quite happily playing the piano in a notorious brothel, Schumann's terrible descent into madness, Scriabin's megalomania, Handel's on stage fight with two rival Divas and Prokofiev looking down his nose at Rachmaninov. One realises that true genius is never an easy burden to bear and can often come with a terrible price.

If I have one caveat then it is that in places the book does show its age. Mahler and Bruckner, for instance, should have their own chapters instead of being lumped together along with Max Reger. It is the same with Scriabin and Rachmaninov although one could possibly argue that this is justified bearing in mind that both were students together for some years.
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