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Classical Music: The 50 Greatest Composers and Their 1,000 Greatest Works Paperback – October 17, 1995

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Classical Music: The 50 Greatest Composers and Their 1,000 Greatest Works + The Vintage Guide to Classical Music + The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection: Second Edition, Revised and Updated
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (October 17, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0449910423
  • ISBN-13: 978-0449910429
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #110,480 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

This is a fun, approachable guide to classical music that uses a light touch, fun facts and humorous anecdotes to help the neophyte make sense of classical music and its origins.

From Library Journal

The dogmatic title of this book is enough to raise the hackles of any music lover. That's unfortunate, because this is a well-designed primer on music for the intelligent but uninformed listener of any age. At 63, Goulding, a Washington newspaper journalist who moved to high government and business posts in defense and oil, attempted to learn something about classical music. Amazingly, he found no helpful sources for the adult absolute beginner. Ten years later, he presents this book for those in the same quandary. The user-friendly format features charts, pictures, and sidebars, simple explanations of musical terms, and descriptions of instruments. The writing flows easily, and the text is readable and browsable. There is nothing new here, but Goulding has done his homework carefully and thoroughly. Recommended for the curious but illiterate music lover.
- Philippa Kiraly, Seattle
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Mr. Goulding flaunts an almost cynical populism throughout the book.
James Hammons
The author ranks the top 50 composers as well as the top five and top ten works that the uninitiated should try as a starter kit for each composer.
Blaise Harris
I'd highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to learn a little more about classical music and the major composers in history.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Kieltyka on May 25, 2001
Format: Paperback
A book for newcomers to Classical music, it acquaints you with the subject in several valuable ways. First, the different periods (Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, 20th Century) are defined and broken down. Then, significant artists of every period are defined. Then, the top 50 composers are listed, in order, beginning with Mr. Bach. Each of the 50 artists are then given a biographical sketch, an overview of their life's work, and their most significant works are highlighted. A Collecters Starter Kit follows for each of the 50, containing 5 works that provide good representation of their careers. Obviously, 5 works may seem laughable when considering Mozart, and may seem too much when considering Bizet, so expanded lists of works follow for those composers with a large body of work.
Goulding treats this book as a research effort, but his personal views do come through at times (He makes it very clear that Georg Telemann and Antonio Vivaldi would NOT be among his top 50, but remain on list because they are historically important composers. In fact, in the description of Telemann you are greatly encouraged to substitute Sergei Rachmaninoff).
The book ends with suggested recordings of each Starter Kit selection. This is very valuable reading prior to taking your next trip to the record store. Whether or not you choose to buy the recommended recordings, this section of the book gives you a good idea of who are the Great conductors and Orchestras, and picking a CD is easier when names like Solti, Karajan, Rubenstein, and Ashkenazy are names familiar to you.
Enjoy the journey!
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44 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Carl C. Nelson on September 30, 2003
Format: Paperback
This book makes an excellent addition to the library of any budding classical music aficionado. It is informative and presented in a clear format that gives the reader a foundation for musical exploration as well as logical direction.
Much of the early chapters ("The Organization of Sound," "Setting the Stage") is written for the rank beginner. I found myself skimming these chapters, as will most readers who already know the differences between melody and harmony, strings and woodwinds, baroque and romantic. A beginner will find it helpful while not dry, and it's well-organized for later reference.
The bulk of the book is then given to a discussion of "The 50 Greatest Composers and Their 1,000 Greatest Works." Goulding gives a nutshell biography, with some colorful sidebars, that gives a good overview of the composers' lives, times, influences, strengths, and weaknesses.
After the bio is the most valuable part of the book--the greatest works of that composer. Goulding presents a "Starter Kit," a "Top Ten," and a "Master Collection" for each of the 50 composers. This allows a classical music newcomer to get the breadth of composers and the depth of a composer that appeals to them. That's what makes this book one that will be a long-time reference work rather than a one-off "beginners only" guide.
Most "composer's guides" seem to favor an egalitarian, arbitrary ordering--alphabetical, chronological--rather than passing judgment about the composer's worth. (I guess it's fortunate for the music beginner that one encounters Bach and Beethoven early on in either an alphabetical or chronological ordering!) I find that Goulding's rankings give direction to exploring classical music.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 31, 1999
Format: Paperback
I knew next to nothing about classical music, but wanted to add some to my music collection. Browsing through the classical section in stores got overwhelming in a hurry. This book helped me a great deal to narrow down what CDs to look for. It's easy to read and understand, includes bios of the 50 most popular/important composers and which of their works are the most well-known, popular, or historically important. Also some suggestions on CDs to buy for various works. You don't need to read the chapters on musical history or instruments, but they are interesting and informative.
This same author has a similar book on opera, too. I'm not as interested in building a collection of opera, but I plan on buying the book just to read and educate myself a little more on opera.
Highly recommended as an easy introduction to classical music, or if you're looking to build or expand your classical libary.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By David M. Sulkers on April 17, 2000
Format: Paperback
Of all the books I have read on classical music, this one has got to be the most straight forward. Simple to understand for any beginner, it explains, not only some history of the composer, but the most signifigant pieces that composer produced. Thankfully, by the time I read this book, I already knew a great deal about classical music (well music history in general 'cause really there are five different periods reffered to in this book, not just the 'classical' period, those being: Renaissance; Baroque; Classical; Romantic and Twentieth Century). This book shines because it approaches the reader as a human being, knowing full well that not all of us know the meaning of texture and melody, of tone color and form. Phil Goulding is a master at meeting the reader at level, at becoming an equal to the reader. If you are interested in 'Classical' music, than this is an essential book to own, so it can be reffered to on many future occasions. One of my favorite aspects of this book is its ranking of the Top 50 composers of all time, I agree with the Top 3, though not in the order they are in currently: Bach (1); Mozart (2) and Beethoven (3). My list would have Beethoven (1); Mozart and Bach tied in 2nd and Brahms 3rd. Just to let you know. Five out of Five.
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