Classical Music Books

Our classical music specialist Kate Rockstrom talks us through books about music, and shares some of her favourites.

andrew_ford We talk a lot about music but there’s something to be said for books about music - whether you agree that descriptions of music are accurate or not. With the release of another book to add to Andrew Ford’s already impressive library, Try Whistling This, I found myself thinking of the different categories found within music writing itself.

There are few broad categories of music books that I’m going to talk about today. There are the straight biographies of musicians, composers, conductors and everyone involved in music. There are the encyclopedic volumes of recordings to listen to, the best and worst available. Then there are the books that look at how to get the full enjoyment of listening to classical music.

Here are some of my picks, some are classics, some are new and some are becoming classics. This is certainly not a comprehensive look but something to get you started.

Beethoven Biographies are a great way to get into someone’s head and understand what they see in the music. Why they choose to perform certain music and who they choose to perform it with and more. Someone like Bernstein is a great gateway to the music of Mahler, while Anna Goldsworthy’s Piano Lessons is a look at piano repertoire in general.

For a closer look at at particular composers there are some fantastic books. Paul Myers’s Leonard Bernstein is part of a highly acclaimed series by Phaidon that is well worth looking at for all composers and musicians.

There are so many books about Beethoven it becomes hard to choose. We have a couple of brilliant ones currently in stock. Particularly The Ninth: Beethoven And The World In 1824, Beethoven: The Universal Composer, Eminent Lives and a special one for kids from Steven Isserlis – Why Beethoven Threw the Stew.

There are also quite a few massive tomes from various publishers that look at the best performances ever recorded. My top pick is the Gramophone Classical Music Guide 2012 simply because the magazine is only place, I think, in the world where you can find the best reviews of all classical music available.

However, hot on its heels is The Penguin Guide To The 1000 Finest Classical Recordings, keeping it simple with a cap on the number of recordings, it’s slightly more digestible. Part of the ever popular ‘1001’ series, this book has been edited by Steven Isserlis which means there are some pretty fabulous recordings in here.

It’s hard to write a book about listening to music. Some people have varying success with it. There are books that look at particular genres, composers or works, like Beethoven’s Chamber Music in Context and the bestselling Cello Suites by Eric Siblin (seriously, everyone has to read this book).

no-such-thing2 There’s also a terrific book called No Such Thing As Silence, John Cage’s 4'33" which looks at contemporary music. For opera lovers you can’t go past a book with the title Weep, Shudder, Die, which pretty much sums up opera in a nutshell.

There are lots of other books available, fascinating reads looking at all sorts of aspects to music. Three Questions For Sixty Five Composers is terrific for any aspiring composers while The Band That Played On looks at the musicians who played as titanic went down, part biography, part music history.

Have a look at the collection below as no matter what classical music you are interested in there will be a book that will help you understand and enjoy the music even more.

kate-rockstrom-pic Kate Rockstromis a Classical Specialist at Readings Carlton. She regularly performs as a flautist as well as writing about music and books, follow her at

Try Whistling This: Writings on Music

Try Whistling This: Writings on Music

Andrew Ford

$49.95Buy now

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