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Discover Music of the Classical Era

by Stephen Johnson

ISBN: 978-1-84379-235-2

Publication Year: 2007 in paperback format

Number of Pages: 128

NAXOS BOOKS, an imprint of Naxos Rights International Ltd

Experience Classicsonline

 Discover Music of the Classical Era is part of the excellent Discover series from Naxos Books. It is meant as a companion to showcase and access the relevant music on their website

One of the objectives of Naxos is for the reader to buy the CDs of which you can hear samples on the site mentioned above, but it is actually much more than that. This is another fabulous little book that can literally and easily be put in one’s pocket. Despite its size it is comprehensive and educational, pleasant to read and informative. All this in only 128 pages!

After the contents list, the first two pages are dedicated to explaining how one accesses the website (requires free registration). It contains all the information needed and is illustrated with screen prints, which make things even simpler, particularly for those who may not be so familiar with the internet. It is then organised in twelve chapters that thoroughly explain, in an easy to read manner, the music of the classical period. The first is a kind of introduction, which aims at answering the question "What was the classical era?" The chapters that follow comprise all the great composers of this time: the really famous, like Mozart, as well as the lesser known, as for example Albrechtsberger, detailing their importance and some of their most influential pieces. This is illustrated with extracts of the various works and with the clear indication where they are in the website thus enabling one to listen to the music, as one reads the carefully written explanations about each composition. Generally, the links to the music work well though some download slower than others. There is a control panel available at the bottom of the webpage, for each track, when you click on the "Listen" icon and this is clearly explained at the top. You can also go straight to the detailed catalogue page when you click on the relevant CD icon or on the numbers in italic. You will then be able to purchase the work. The sound quality is generally very good and one is given the choice of listening to the extracts in two different modes: FM quality (20 kbps) or near CD quality (64 kbps). The recordings chosen are all by established, distinguished artists, delivering critically acclaimed interpretations and giving excellent performances.

The book is user-friendly and written in an accessible language that any person will understand whether he or she is musically literate or not. The author, Stephen Johnson, who is also a distinguished journalist and broadcaster, writes in a clear, fluent style. He calls things by their proper names but without ever sounding pompous or too intellectual to scare off some readers who are keen listeners but may struggle with the way in which some musicologists or music historians write, often too technical and flourished for easy comprehension.

Adding to the informative value of the book, there are reproductions of portraits of the composers named in it, as well as of accounts written by their contemporaries. Stephen Johnson also takes great care in the historical references, giving a general, summarised idea of what was going on politically and continuously referring to important works of the time, which were also being accomplished in other arts, like in literature, visual arts and architecture. At the end of the book, there is an excellent chronological table, spanning from 1750 to 1816 - the period usually denominated as classical in music - and containing the birth and death of each significant composer, the date of completion of their most important compositions, set against the historical events of the same year, as well as the events in art, architecture and literature. This is a very useful table that will help one put things in perspective and understand what changed in the arts after the Baroque period, why it happened and how it lead to Romanticism. Commendable is also the glossary, explaining the musical terms used in the book and, unusual but very interesting, the map of Europe, which graphically indicates where all the composers of the classical period were born. This is complemented by a brief list with all their names, dates and places of birth and death.

Discover Music of the Classical Era is really a lively little book, interesting and informative to read on its own and particularly enjoyable if you read it and listen to the music on the Naxos website, as you go along. It will make for a very pleasant experience whether one enjoys the music of this period or not, helping to understand how rich it was and why it all came to be.

I personally found it delightful and would recommend it to any person who loves music in general and the composers of the classical period in particular. Let us hope that Naxos will continue to publish such fabulous, little books to accompany their generally excellent CD recordings.

Margarida Mota-Bull

Delightful. I would recommend it to any person who loves music ... see Full Review

With each Life & Music biography comes access to a dedicated website for that composer, containing hours of extra music to listen to. The works featured on the CDs may be enjoyed in full on the website (so in the case of Mahler, there are seven symphonies and four major vocal works!) plus many pieces by contemporaries of the composer. There is also a substantial timeline showing the composer’s life beside concurrent events in arts, literature and history.

These websites, together with the book and CDs, make for an unrivalled multimedia approach the biographical format and a uniquely rounded portrait of each composer.



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