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Classic fm The Friendly Guide to Music

By Darren Henley

Book accompanied by a CD of 20 classical music excerpts

Hodder Arnold 224 pages paperback ISBN 978-0-340-94019-8

9:99; $19:60 Amazon



Mainly, I imagine, for MusicWeb’s readers, this book and CD would interest, and be considered as a gift for those - hopefully young people new to music - who, as its back cover proclaims: "wouldn’t normally consider buying a book on the subject, but who are interested in developing a greater understanding of classical music."

That ubiquitous British broadcaster boldly credited on the book’s front cover thus: ‘as presented by Tony Robinson’, is only tenuously linked with it. He just contributes the book’s brief Foreword, something of an assurance for those who might be approaching classical music with some trepidation. [Tony Robinson presented a radio series of the same name on Classic fm in 2006. The book is an accompaniment to this radio series which has since been repeated on Classic fm]

The Friendly Guide to Music’s author, Darren Henley, is UK’s Classic fm’s Station Manager.

Hanley at the outset assures his readers that the book is free of musical technical jargon and then goes on to proclaim rather sweepingly that: "The advent of pop music meant that for a significant part of the 20th century, classical music came to be regarded as the preserve of the cultured elite. Those people on the inside of the classical club didn’t seem to want to share the musical delights that they had discovered with those people who were outside the elite. For people looking in, classical music seemed to be surrounded by an impenetrable ring of steel."

Not true – well not entirely. Many of us involved in music are keen to extol its virtues, spread the word. We are deeply concerned about dwindling and ageing concert audiences, and dwindling and ageing membership of composer societies and recorded music societies etc. In my capacity as a music journalist working for a number of international music magazines, I have had the privilege of interviewing a number of leading international artists: conductors and soloists; and they all expressed such concerns. There are of course many reasons for the decline in interest in classical music and I could write paragraphs covering them. But the situation is now so serious that one might pose a question such as: ‘What is the use of ‘Young Musician of the Year’ contests when, without encouraging young people to learn to listen (and older folk, for 90 year olds have attended my music appreciation weekends), there could be a distinct danger of those young musicians having no audiences?

And this is where books such as these are so important.

The Guide journeys forward through the five main areas of music: early, baroque, classical, romantic and modern giving succinct details about major composers of each period and suggesting representative works for listening. In 20 cases, excerpts from Naxos recordings are referenced to the CD. Early on, a time-line table is featured giving composers’ birth and death dates and, imaginatively, showing ‘what else was going on in the world’ (composers do not live in ivory castles, their lives and attitudes were often shaped by external events.) Included is: The Classic FM Hall of Fame Top 100 – Classic FM’s listeners’ favourites with Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto at No. 1; followed by Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto and Vaughan William’s The Lark Ascending; and a section on ‘Classical music used in films’ – it is pleasing to note this book’s un-snobbish approach to film music and appreciation of its importance in introducing so many people to good music. Amusingly, there is even a ‘Classical Music Mood Chart’ – music calculated to raise your blood pressure (example Wagner’s Prelude to Act III from Lohengrin) or lower it (example: Barber’s Adagio for Strings) Again, usefully, the book’s list of musical excerpts on its accompanying CD gives pointers to further listening – eg. At the foot of the note on Excerpt 19 which is from Elgar’s Enigma Variations, is a footnote: "If you enjoyed this, then try Elgar’s stirring Cockaigne Overture."

The book’s main weakness is a complete lack of illustrations, no pictures of any of the composers featured and not one musical stave. It is printed in a dour monotone throughout with only grey-tinted panels to relieve the look of a densely packed page.

The book, however, does suggest further reading: other books going into more detail, plus other material such as the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the database of which may be accessed on-line, Gramophone magazine and the invaluable The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music edited by Michael Kennedy. To which I would add my own recommendation, the profusely illustrated Collins Classical Music Encyclopaedia published by Harper Collins in 2000 at 29;99 and worth every penny – a mine of information on composers, the development of music, instrumentation and singing styles etc with music examples, recommended recordings and much, much more.

A friendly introduction to classical music – buy it for a favourite young person.

Ian Lace



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