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10 books for Classical music lovers

Joanna By Joanna Published on November 29, 2015
This article was updated on December 8, 2015

Charles Rosen's The Classical Style is essential reading for anyone who wants to know more about the musical language defined by the composers of the Viennese Classical School. Rosen describes how the music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven differs from the music of the High Baroque. 

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In First Nights: Five Musical Premieres, Thomas Forrest Kelly contextualizes five canonical works – Monteverdi's Orfeo, Handel's Messiah, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, and Stravinsky's Le Sacre du printemps. By describing these first performances, Kelly helps you experience this music as if the ink were still dripping from the page. 

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Music in the Castle of Heaven: A portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach is an intimate profile of one of today's most compelling musical personalities. The author, John Eliot Gardiner, grew up with one of the only two authentic portraits of the composer in the staircase of his parents' home. Immersed in Bach's music throughout his career, Gardiner has become a leading expert on Bach's music and one of his most fascinating interpreters. 

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Ian Bostridge has sung Schubert's Winterreise more than one hundred times. Bostridge's deep involvement with this work is exposed in Schubert's Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, a captivating meditation on what is today regarded as one of music's greatest song cycles. 

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Alex Ross' The Rest is Noise is an encompassing history of art music in the twentieth century detailing various currents ranging from Strauss and Mahler's fin de siècle formal experiments to Björk's avant garde compostions. His suggested listening section is very helpful. 

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Alfred Brendel in Music Sense and Nonsense, a series of thoughtful and provocative essays drawing from his life's experience as a concert pianist. His reflections are clearly expressed for music lovers and performers alike. 

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Elisabeth Le Guin's Boccherini's Body: An Essay in Carnal Musicology is a sexy study of a performer's unique, embodied experience while playing the cello works of the eighteenth century composer, Luigi Boccherini. 

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Haydn and the Performance of Rhetoric is a series of essays by a collection of Haydn specialists edited by Tom Beghin, one of the world's leading fortepianists. The accompanying DVD presents performances related to the topics examined in the volume.

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Bruce Haynes' The End of Early Music: A Period Performer's History of Music for the Twenty-First Century is an accessible examination of the historically informed performance (HIP) movement written by one of the veterans of the HIP movement for musicians and non-musicians.

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Glenn Kurtz' Practicing: A Musician's Return to Music is a brutally honest and often poignant narrative of a musician's striving, failure, and return to his craft. Unlike many musicians' memoirs, Kurtz focuses less on his own specific path – rather on his embodied experience of practicing which renders the "whole body alive with aspiration."

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Discover more Holiday’s reading lists

Joanna has twice won certificates of honour (and a free beer) for demonstrating “extraordinary courage against the unsurmountable Phaal”, a ludicrously spicy curry.