Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Complete Classical Music Guide by DK Publishing

The Complete Classical Music Guide explains the terms used in Classical music, discusses the music and instruments of each period and gives details of the lives and works of almost 300 composers. It's "the essential listener's guide to more than a thousand years of western Classical music".

I loved this book! This gorgeous book is one of the most beautifully presented books I've ever seen. It's simple, yet very elegant. The book itself is white with gold lettering; clean and crisp. It's encased in a protective three-sided box shaped like a grand piano top.    

The inside of the book is no less beautiful. It's nicely laid out, has small, but relevant photographs, and is jam-packed with tons of information about Classical music. The sections are colour-coded and are laid out in interesting and appealing ways. The instrument photographs are labelled and annotated. A few of them are a little small, though.

The book starts off with a terrific introduction that features the basics of music, the instruments and performances before launching into the history of Classical music. The history part is broken down into different musical periods: early music, Baroque, Classical, etc. Each of these sections starts off with an introduction before getting into the major players of the era. There are also sections on opera and the national schools grouped by nationality rather than style.

I loved all of the information on the composers. Some of it was basic: birth and death dates, nationality, number of published works and milestones in their career. For the more well-known or more accomplished composers, there was also information on their key works and influences.  Some of these span many pages.

Some of the information presented was familiar to me as I used to attend the symphony quite frequently. I also used to study/play the flute (strictly as a hobby, no performances). Even though there was stuff I already knew, the books also contained lots of information that was new-to-me. I learned so much about the different composers and musical elements.

My favourite musical period is Baroque, although I do like a few composers from the Classical period. I loved reading about Vivaldi, Bach and Handel, but also found a bunch of less-known-to-me composers that I'm going to check out.

The book contains some wonderful quotes about the artists or spoken by the artists themselves. Here are a few of my favourite quotes:
We cannot despair about mankind knowing that Mozart was a man. (Albert Einstein, page 110)
Keep your eye on him; one day he will make the world talk of him. (Mozart, on hearing the 17-year-old Beethoven, page 114)
After playing Chopin, I feel as if I had been weeping over sins that I had never committed, and mourning over tragedies that were not my own. (Oscar Wilde, page 132)
It is unnecessary for music to make people would be enough if it made them listen. (Claude Debussy, page 234)
The table of contents is a bit sparse. It only lists the major sections. I quite enjoyed reading over the glossary, which explains some of the terms used in Classical music. The index is extensive and should be very helpful in locating items in the book. It lists the composers, their well-known works and lots more.

Highly recommended. It's a classical music lover's dream. It's beautiful enough to leave out on the coffee table rather than hidden away on a shelf. If you have a classical music fan in your circle of family and friends, this would make a terrific Christmas gift.

The book was previously published as Eyewitness Companions: Classical Music.

For more information about this book, please visit DK's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at DK Canada for this review copy.

The Complete Classical Music Guide by DK Publishing, Dorling Kindersley (DK), ©2012. ISBN 9780756682568(Hardcover with hard protective cover), 352p.


  1. Awesome! I'm putting this on my Christmas list. I love Debussy - and many others. Would be fascinating to know more about all of them.

  2. Thanks for the review. I just placed an order for the book!


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