Analyses of great music are frequently given by some
great expert for the edification of other great experts, but these are
so esoteric as to leave the average person, let alone the beginner,
as befogged as before and then discourages them from listening altogether.
This is a book meant for the young, and/or the beginner being introduced
to great classical music for the first time and it makes refreshing
reading for its lack of pomposity. At once one is aware of the unbounded
enthusiasm that the author has for music and his chosen composers. The
object is twofold, to make the reader meet the composers as though they
were alive now, real human beings, and then secondly guide them to start
listening to some great music.
Each chapter is opened with a description of the composer
as a person followed by a suggestion of the music one might listen to
start with and then a more formal presentation of the composer’s life.
His happy-go-lucky description of their lives is a great attempt to
breathe life into them and I think he achieves the object of making
you feel as if you had met them as real human beings. The music and
composers chosen are intriguing, five Germans and one Russian (sort
of). Bach, the Goldberg Variations filled with popular tunes, St. Mathew
Passion deeply emotional, or the Brandenburg concertos. Not to forget
the English Suites full of tunes you can dance to and the gorgeous air.
Mozart in the operas where he shows his consummate skill in marrying
voice and orchestra. Using the same operatic technique in blending solo
instruments and Orchestra. Beethoven, the 5th and 6th symphonies, the
piano sonatas like the Moonlight and the Pathetique. But then anything
Beethoven wrote is quite amazing.
Brahms was his own fiercest critic and so he recommends
anything from the grand almost daunting First Symphony to the ‘fun’
Hungarian Dances. And finally, squarely in the twentieth century with
Stravinsky. Starting with the three great ‘Diaghilev’ ballets. But he
introduces the reader to the great range of subsequent compositions.
Finally, like Plutarch’s "Lives", one wishes that he could
have written like this about so many other composers.