Are you interested in learning the stories behind some of your favorite classical composers and the pieces they wrote? If so, you may be interested in this list compiled and maintained by Reader Advisor Suzy Higgins.
Adventures in Symphonic Music by Edward Downes.
This guide provides an informal analysis of over 200 frequently heard compositions interspersed with anecdotes about the composers' lives and the development of the symphonic form. RC 20051.
Amy Beach, Passionate Victorian by Adrienne F. Block.
Biography of the first American woman to succeed as a composer of both art song and large scale vocal and instrumental works. Discusses the early recognition of her talent and the personal freedom she finally enjoyed on tours as a concert pianist after her husband's death in 1910. RC 50332.
And Music at the Close: Stravinsky's Last Years by Lillian Libman.
An account of Stravinsky's last twelve years by his personal assistant who was often companion, secretary, valet, and chauffeur. Libman presents a portrait of an aging genius struggling to maintain his dignity. RC 8978.
Bamboula!: The Life and Times of Louis Moreau Gottschalk by Frederick Starr.
Portrait of a nineteenth-century American composer and piano virtuoso known internationally for his popular multicultural musical style and at home for his scandalous personal life. The author traces the influences of both family and the New Orleans environment on Gottschalk, examining why, though he was extremely successful, he was never taken seriously. RC 42095.
Bartók Remembered by Malcolm Gillies.
Recollections of Bela Bartok--composer, teacher, performer, and musicologist--by those who knew him best. An extensive chronology of Bartok’s life and works precedes nearly one hundred reminiscences that trace his life from Hungary to America. The memories of family, associates, friends, and students sometimes present a conflicting image of the personality of this musician, who only reluctantly spoke of his music. RC 35784.
Beethoven by Maynard Solomon.
Analytical, perceptive, and eloquent biography of the composer. Solomon incorporates all prior significant data and research on Beethoven, his family, and his associates. RC 25162.
Benjamin Britten: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter.
Twentieth-century British composer whose name dominated the music world for decades. Using lay language, Carpenter examines what influenced such familiar works as The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra and Peter Grimes. In addition to outlining Britten’s creative growth, the author focuses on his complex personal relationships, including a homosexual ’marriage’ to Peter Pears.RC 42089.
Bernstein: A Biography by Joan Peyser.
As a composer of classical and Broadway music, a lecturer, an author, a pianist, and the first American to become the conductor of a major orchestra, Bernstein was as well known as any musician in this century. His biographer includes a discussion of the maestro’s celebrated and flamboyant personal life, which was almost as legendary as his career. RC 33000.
Charles Ives Remembered: An Oral History by Vivian Perlis.
Interviews with family, friends, neighbors, business associates, and musicians combine to form an in-depth portrait of an original and creative musical mind of the twentieth century. RC 10338.
Chopin in Paris: The Life and Times of the Romantic Composer by Tad Szulc.
Biography concentrates on the eighteen years, nearly half his life, that the Polish musical genius spent in France. Portrays his artistic and political friends who fashioned European culture from 1831 to 1849, including Sand, Balzac, Hugo, Lamartine, Delacroix, Liszt, Berlioz, Schumann, and Mendelssohn. RC 47805.
Claude Debussy by Wendy Thompson.
Claude Debussy, perhaps more than any other composer, earned respect for French music. Admitted to the prestigious Paris Conservatoire at the age of ten, Debussy began to experiment with new combinations of sounds and was criticized for writing "vague impressionism." Influenced by a colorful array of artists, Debussy found his own voice in a small but lasting repertoire that includes Clair de lune. Composers series. RC 37130.
Copland, 1900 through 1942 by Aaron Copland and Vivian Perlis.
This autobiographical memoir draws heavily from oral history interviews, interspersed with reminiscences by Copland’s colleagues and friends, put into perspective by Perlis’s interludes. The volume covers the early years in the life and career of this American composer, who was born in 1900. RC 36095, BR 9225.
The Creators by Daniel Boorstin.
The author retells the stories, including biographical details, of the creative individuals who shaped the arts in Western civilization. His narrative begins with the efforts of the Hindus and weaves in the contributions made by architects, painters, composers, writers, sculptors, and dancers. Man’s Continuing Quest series, book 2. RC 35507.
Days: Tangier Journal, 1987-1989 by Paul Bowles.
An aging author begins to keep a diary. While Bowles’s effort does not result in daily entries, he records events and creates a picture of life in Tangier, his adopted home. Not surprisingly, music plays an important part in his routine, for it is what took him abroad in the first place. He provides glimpses of his contacts with fellow Americans and portrays his admiration for the Arabic world. RC 36277.
Gershwin by Edward Jablonski.
An extensive biography of George Gershwin, one of America’s most admired composers, who rose to prominence during the Jazz Age and in his short lifetime created a body of work that has endured through the ages. RC 27371.
Good Company: A Memoir, Mostly Theatrical by Irving Drutman.
Encounters with Broadway first-nighters, movie stars, tycoons, poets, publishers, composers, and eccentrics. Warm and wry armchair company for theater lovers. RC 15922.
The Great Cellists by Margaret Campbell.
The cello evolved from an early "bass violin" to the instrument in use since the seventeenth century. It has attracted an international roster of virtuoso players. Inventive makers, teachers, composers, and performers contributed to the instrument's popularity. By placing their contributions in perspective and by examining many traditions, this book shows the great cello players as people as well as musicians. RC 32733.
Handel by Christopher Hogwood.
Biography of the eighteenth century composer of the “Messiah”. The noted musicologist author traces the life and career of Handel through original documents, covering his early years in Germany, his apprenticeship in Italy, and his prime in London. RC 25180.
In Touch: The Letters of Paul Bowles by Paul Bowles.
Letters from an American-born author who traveled extensively before settling in Tangiers. During these years, Bowles met many of the cognoscenti of the arts world on several continents, and he corresponded with them for much of the twentieth century. As a writer, composer, translator, and critic, Bowles wrote often on subjects related to his interests, but one of his most frequent themes was travel. RC 39163.
Johannes Brahms: A Biography by Jan Swafford.
Using primary sources, the author documents the life of composer Johannes Brahms in the context of the social and political atmosphere of nineteenth century Austria. Brahms himself destroyed much of his personal correspondence as well as compositions he deemed inferior. Includes musical examples to show Brahms's development. BR 11801.
Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician by Christoph Wolff.
A musical biography of the German composer by a Harvard professor of music. Wolff presents the essence of Bach's life in the absence of documented details and concentrates on music as part of the composer's intellectual profile. Connects Bach to the spirit of discovery and learning of his era. RC 51541.
Letters from a Life: The Selected Letters and Diaries of Benjamin Britten, 1913-1976 edited by Donald Mitchell.
Correspondence by the English composer and his family and friends paints a picture of the early years in Britten's life and work. This period covers his schooldays, his studies at the Royal College of Music, his homosexual liaisons, his confirmation of pacifist views, and his stay in America at the start of World War II. RC 34568.
Mahler: A Biography by Jonathan Carr.
Traces the late-Romantic composer’s path from Austria to America. Highlights Mahler’s childhood and musical life in Central Europe until his early forties when he met and married the beautiful and much younger Alma Schindler. In the last decade of his life, he composed some of his most renowned works and moved from Europe to New York. RC 47184.
Mahler Remembered by Norman Lebrecht.
This portrait of the composer is in the form of a collage created by his contemporaries. Each fragment is prefaced by a brief statement identifying the contributor’s relationship to Mahler. The entries, arranged in more-or-less chronological order, reconstruct the development of a major influence in twentieth- century music. Some of the creators of this image are Mahler’s wife, Alma; Bruno Walter; Richard Strauss; and Thomas Mann. RC 36308.
Maud Powell, Pioneer American Violinist by Karen A. Shaffer.
Well-documented biography of Maud Powell, who succeeded as a concert violinist in spite of being an American, and a woman. Born in 1867 in Illinois, she began studying music as a very young child and by sixteen was touring Great Britain. While she traveled worldwide, her major accomplishment was introducing American audiences to classical music. RC 30900.
The Marriage Diaries of Robert and Clara Schumann by Robert Schumann.
The Schumanns took turns in making entries about everything that touched their relationship for the first four years of their marriage. The joint effort records happiness and tension, the birth of children, financial problems, travel, Robert’s mental health, Clara’s resumption of her concert career, details about his compositions, and reactions to their musical friends. RC 39259.
Maurice Ravel: A Life by Benjamin Ivry.
A chronological account of the composer’s life that propounds the thesis that "Ravel was a very secretive gay man." Using unpublished documents, letters, articles, and memoirs, Ivry discusses Ravel’s sexuality and suggests how it affected the "sixty works of permanent value" he produced. RC 53411.
Memoirs by Sir Georg Solti.
Twentieth-century international conductor traces his musical training in Hungary and career as a pianist and music director. Born in 1912, Solti relates how he survived two world wars in Europe and advanced his musical life despite anti-Semitism. He discusses his interpretation of various composers and his twenty-two years with the Chicago Symphony. RC 47294.
The Memory of All That: The Life of George Gershwin by Joan Peyser.
The author states at the outset that she intends to offer "insight into Gershwin’s character and temperament." To accomplish this, Peyser creates a picture of the composer’s family life, chronicles his numerous affairs, and supports the contention that Alan Gershwin is his son. Peyser notes that the classical music establishment treated Gershwin’s work with disdain but that the popularity of his music endures. RC 38385.
Mozart by Marcia Davenport.
First published in 1932. Revised in 1956 on the bicentenary of the Austrian composer's birth, following the publication of Mozart's letters and a new index to his works. This portrait of the child prodigy, who grew up in a talented family and developed into a musical genius, combines documented facts about his career with imaginary conversations. RC 35415, BR 9172.
Mozart: A Cultural Biography by Robert W. Gutman.
Presents the Austrian composer's life and music within the political and social context of eighteenth century Europe. Describes his early tours as a child prodigy and his evolution as a performer and composer. Analyzes Mozart's work and its reception by his peers.RC 49965.
Mozart: A Life by Maynard Solomon.
The author of Beethoven (RC 25162) examines the life and music of another of history’s great composers. Solomon shows how Mozart developed from child prodigy to mature artist by the time of his death at thirty-five. Combining musical analysis with an in-depth study of documentary sources, Solomon contests the "eternal child" myth, which he attributes to Mozart’s father. RC 40451.
Music and Imagination by Aaron Copland.
These six talks, originally delivered as the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard, deal with the musical mind at work in its different capacities as listener, interpreter, and creator. Copland also discusses specific manifestations of musical mind in the music of other twentieth-century composers in Europe and the Americas. RC 32580.
Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr.
A British psychiatrist examines how music affects humans and questions why it is so important to our culture. An amateur musician knowledgeable about classical music, Storr ponders theories about the origins of music, takes a scientific look at its relationship to the mind and body, and studies its role in developing the intellect. The author expresses his ideas in language accessible to the lay reader. RC 36544.
The Music of Light: The Extraordinary Story of Hikari and Kenzaburo Oe by Lindsley Cameron.
Biography of the Japanese classical music composer Hikari Oe and his devoted father, Kenzaburo Oe, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Discusses Hikari’s physical disabilities and musical gifts and his close relationship with the father who began writing to give his son a voice. RC 48623.
The New Shostakovich by Ian MacDonald.
"I never lie in music," said the Russian composer, who had been thought to accept the official Communist line. His music and his dictated "memoirs" are the basis for MacDonald’s re-examination of Shostakovich. Research leads him to the conclusion that the composer was a yurodivy, or a jester, and that his apparently innocent music exposes his true hatred of the Soviet regime. RC 35341.
Noel and Cole: The Sophisticates by Stephen Citron.
Portrait of Cole Porter and Noel Coward, writers of both the words and the music to some of the most well-known songs of the twentieth century. Citron, a composer and lyricist himself, alternates episodes in the lives of these two legends of the music, theater, and film world, noting their different backgrounds, styles, and talents, analyzing some of their most familiar songs, and reporting their homosexuality, love for the high life, and mutual admiration. RC 37450.
No Minor Chords: My Days in Hollywood by Andre Previn.
The orchestral conductor, recording artist, accomplished pianist, and composer of works ranging from classical to popular recounts his sixteen years in the Hollywood film business. An immigrant who attended the Paris Conservatory and played the piano for silent movies, Previn was hired as an MGM music staff writer in his teens. RC 35509.
On Mozart: A Paean for Wolfgang by Anthony Burgess.
Pseudo-drama about Mozart. During the prologue composers bicker as they set the celestial stage. There follows an opera buffa interrupted by a satire on K. 550 and ending with a brief epilogue. RC 36196.
Perfect Pitch: A Life Story by Nicolas Slonimsky.
Autobiography of an extraordinary Russian-born musician, whose life spans most of the twentieth century. He is best-known as a musical lexicographer and for his seemingly endless capacity for having fun. He was successful as a pianist (noted for his ability to interpret contemporary scores for Koussevitzky), a composer, and a conductor (who introduced avant-garde composers such as Ives and Cowell). RC 33281, BR 8622.
Rachmaninoff: Composer, Pianist, Conductor by Barrie Martyn.
This late-Romantic composer worked as a conductor before he fled Russia in the revolution of 1917. After his emigration to America, he became extremely popular as a pianist whose virtuoso performances concentrated on his own music and often created controversy when he played standard repertoire. Martyn discusses each aspect of Rachmaninoff’s career and his place in musical history. RC 33518.
Richard Rodgers by William Hyland.
An account of Rodgers' life and many of the musicals he wrote. Born in 1902 to an affluent Russian-Jewish family, he began developing his talent at an early age. Describes the evolution of his work, which included more than forty shows produced over sixty years, first with Lorenz Hart and later with Oscar Hammerstein II. RC 48463.
Richard Strauss by Matthew Boyden.
Biography of German composer and conductor Richard Strauss. Examines the cultural background of his formative years, the development of his musical career, and his collaboration with Hitler's government. Discusses his achievements including the composition of the operas Salome, Elektra, and Der Rosenkavalier. RC 51175.
Ruth Crawford Seeger: A Composer's Search for American Music by Judith Tick.
Biography of Ruth Crawford, who was already a successful classical musician when she met fellow composer Charles Seeger. Marrying in 1932, the two became involved in radical politics. Moving to Washington, D.C., in 1936, Charles worked on the Federal Music Project where they both became involved in the folk music movement. Ruth became a noted transcriber of folk anthologies. RC 47331.
Schubert and His Vienna by Charles Osborne.
Describes Schubert's major works in non-technical language. Also appraises many of his minor works, including waltzes and dance music as well as the church music he composed. RC 25632.
Selected Letters of Paul Hindemith edited by Geoffrey Skelton.
The first English translation of correspondence by this twentieth-century modernist German composer, musician, teacher, and organizer of contemporary music concerts. Fleeing Nazi Germany, where his work was banned as "decadent," Hindemith emigrated to the United States, where he taught at Yale. Much of the correspondence comes from this period in exile before his eventual return to Europe as part of the postwar rebuilding effort. RC 43111.
Sergei Prokofiev: A Biography by Harlow Robinson.
The author attempts to provide a complete and balanced portrait of this "misunderstood" genius, drawing extensively on Russian-language sources previously unavailable to the English-speaking audience. Robinson’s goal is to encourage greater appreciation of Prokofiev’s music, presenting it as part of a wider human and historical struggle. RC 28741.
Shostakovich: A Life Remembered by Elizabeth Wilson.
A documentary biography of the great twentieth century Russian composer. Presents reminiscences of some seventy contemporaries arranged chronologically and supplemented with research. Focuses on the social and political circumstances behind the creation and performance of Shostakovich's works. Recounts the Stalinist purges of 1936 and 1948, when artists were censured and arrested. RC 42263.
Stephen Sondheim: A Life by Meryle Secrest.
Biography of the musical theater composer based on interviews with Sondheim, his family, friends, and coworkers. Interweaves facts about his personal background with information about his artistic career spanning more than forty years of Broadway shows. Discusses his experiences with Oscar Hammerstein, Leonard Bernstein, and Harold Prince among others. RC 48997.
Tchaikovsky: The Quest for the Inner Man by Alexander Poznansky.
Russian cultural and social historian creates a portrait of the late nineteenth century composer. Poznansky announces that his book is about the man who wrote the music, a story of Tchaikovsky's life and career in pre-Revolutionary Russia at the height of Romanticism. The author examines Tchaikovsky's homosexual relationships as well as those with his patroness and wife. RC 40613.
Tchaikovsky Remembered by David Brown.
The introduction is followed by a chronology of Tchaikovsky's life and works, with reference to contemporary figures and events. Then, drawing on accounts of the popular Russian composer written during his lifetime, the author portrays the public and private sides of a troubled figure who wrote operas, ballets, symphonies, and concertos, as well as orchestral, chamber, choral, vocal, and piano music, and who died under mysterious circumstances. RC 39508.
Verdi: A Biography by Mary Jane Phillips-Matz.
Although Verdi's life and music appear to be intertwined, the focus of this biography is the man himself. Phillips-Matz's account covers the composer's peasant origins and family tragedies as well as the unfriendliness that Verdi suffered from local citizens. The author also includes enough about Verdi's difficulties, love affairs, and cruelty to create the innuendo, intrigue, and drama that might be needed for a major opera. RC 39038.
Virgil Thomson: Composer on the Aisle by Anthony Tommasini.
Biography of the composer and longtime music critic of the New York Herald Tribune who received a Pulitzer Prize for music. Discusses Thomson's discreet homosexuality during a time when such a revelation could cost one a career. RC 46247.
The Way I Was by Marvin Hamlisch.
This musically precocious boy was admitted to the Juilliard School of Music at age six and wrote pop songs when he was supposedly tending to his classical music studies. But the urge paid off in the form of impressive awards, also at an early age. After the success of A Chorus Line, the composer went through a low period. Now he happily recounts the joy he has found in marriage, and with it a renewed stimulus. RC 38120.
You Are Not I: A Portrait of Paul Bowles by Millicent Dillon.
Traces the writer's childhood on Long Island, his training as a composer and writer, his years in Paris and Morocco, and his rise to fame as author of bestseller The Sheltering Sky (RC 23642, BR 8835). Reflects on the relationship between his work and life, and examines the ties between biographers and their subjects. RC 49896.