Kavanaugh, Patrick. Music of the Great Composers: A Listener’s Guide to the Best of Classical Music.

Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

This was first published in 1993 as A Taste for the Classics, and was reissued (apparently unchanged) by Zondervan, a major religious publishing house — presumably because the author has also written several “spiritual” books about composers. It’s not a very long book, but it works very well for me. I’m one of those people who “appreciates” music and who listens to one sort or another a great deal of the time — though I have zero musical training, don’t play an instrument, can’t read a note of music, and can’t even carry a tune.

I grew up with my mother’s fondness for show tunes and my father’s partiality for the big bands of his own youth, and I became engrossed in the rock and folk revolutions of the late 1950s and early ‘60s. And then, in college, I took to listening to the campus’s NPR station and developed a taste for the classical stuff — especially chamber music. I built up what I imagined was a decent record collection over the years, later replaced it with CDs, and yet never had a plan for what I was listening to. Recently, a conversation with a more knowledgeable friend led me to think I should be more systematic about this and I began reading books from the library. Not textbooks, not biographies, not histories, but the musical equivalent of the “what ought I to read next” sort of thing. (I’m a librarian and “reader’s advisory” is something I understand.) After working my unimpressed way through a sizable stack of volumes, I have found only a very few that provide the information for which I’ve been searching and which do it in a non-threatening way. Kavanaugh confines himself to a little more than 200 pages, organizing his suggestions by category: symphonic, orchestral, choral, concertos, opera, chamber music, and song. In each chapter, he discusses (briefly) the major western composers and explains why their works continue to be popular, what you should listen for and be aware of, and what influence they had on the next generation. Scattered throughout are listening programs apposite to the topic under discussion. And at the end is an everything-list: “A Lifetime of Listening: Your First Thousand Pieces.” That’s undoubtedly more than I will ever get to but it’s an excellent checklist. I’ve already acquired a number of new CDs of composers I hadn’t previously considered. An excellent resource.

Published in: on 4 February 2011 at 7:19 am  Leave a Comment  
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