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The Symphony: A Listener's Guide [Kindle Edition]

Michael Steinberg
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Enriched by biographical detail, historical background, musical examples, and many finely nuanced observations, this volume is a treasury of insight and information. Readers will find illuminating discussion of the complete symphonies of Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Sibelius, and Mahler, as well as of the most loved symphonic works of Schubert, Bruckner, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, and others. We learn how to listen more sharply for Haydn's humor, to Mozart's singular combination of pathos with grace, and to the evolution of Beethoven's musical ideas in his nine symphonies. This remarkable range and variety of composers are illuminated by Steinberg's deft, inviting, and intensely personal essays, which give such a vivid portrait of each composer's personality that the reader gets an immediate sense of how the work is a direct expression of the person from whose soul and brain it has sprung.
Tracing the ways in which composers have dealt with the musical challenges that have engaged them throughout the centuries, Steinberg takes us through the revolutions of expression, sound, and form that have shaped the symphony's remarkable history. Whether beginners or veterans, music lovers will listen to the symphony with enlivened interest and deeper understanding with Steinberg's masterful guide in hand.

Editorial Reviews Review

This is a serious, inclusive look at symphonic composers and their work. A well-constructed reference, it examines the development of the symphonic art from its beginnings to the present day, composer by composer, in chronological order. This would be a useful addition to any music bookshelf.

From Library Journal

Critic, lecturer, and program annotator Steinberg describes 36 composers and, movement by movement, 118 symphonies, including all the standard repertory regularly programmed by North American orchestras as well as a few by less well known composers such as Gorecki, Harbison, Martinu, and Sessions. The writing varies from formal and factual to chatty, with candid asides and stories relevant to the composer, the composition, or an important performance. The information is on the level of good program notes (the origin of most of it), although reader familiarity with some basic musical technical terms is assumed. A well-written, informative introduction to the repertory for most music collections.?Timothy J. McGee, Univ. of Toronto
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 8753 KB
  • Print Length: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (December 7, 1995)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #587,547 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
52 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beginner's perspective July 25, 2001
The other reviewers here have given you the perspective of die-hard classical music fans. I am not really expert enough to comment on ommisions and such. But I would like to present another possible reason to purchase this book. Classical music can seem kind of inscrutable to the outsider, but this book sort of walks the reader (and listener) through each piece. I've used it to pick what piece to track down next. This book will enrich the listening experience and the listening skills of the musically minded amateur i think. It did for me.
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45 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Indispensable September 17, 2001
A wonderful book. Michael Steinberg is probably the premier writer of program notes for symphony orchestra concerts in the English-speaking world, and his two books, The Symphony: A Listener's Guide (Oxford University Press, 1995, 678 pages), and its companion volume The Concerto: A Listener's Guide (Oxford UP, 1998, 506 pages), are probably the two best collections of program notes on the symphony and the concerto that have ever been published in English. Steinberg formerly wrote the program notes for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and currently writes them for the New York Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. He was music critic of the Boston Globe for twelve years. These two books come with glowing recommendations from such distinguished musical figures as Seiji Ozawa, Michael Tilson Thomas, Andre Previn, Herbert Blomstedt, Roger Norrington, and John Adams. Speaking as one who has attended countless symphony orchestra concerts on the East Coast, West Coast, and in Dallas for more than forty years, and has always read the program notes, I can say that I've never read any as good as these. They are readable, learned, witty, accessible, and delightful, full of important biographical and historical information, and of course musical description, evaluation, and analysis that is genuinely illuminating and enlightening, without being so technical you need to be a musicologist or seated at a piano to understand it. (Inevitably, there are some musical examples, but these are relatively few, usually fairly simple, and you don't have to understand them to grasp the meaning of the text.) I would recommend these two books strongly to any lover of classical music, anyone who attends symphony orchestra concerts. Read more ›
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars great, but with 20 pages more it would have been perfect September 20, 1999
By Daniele
I greatly enjoyed this book: Steinberg's style is lively and full of wit, but authoritative nonetheless, which is rare. As a reference book, this is an invaluable "tool" for the music lover and the scholar alike. As a fan of British and American music I found the Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Schuman chapters really praiseworthy. So, why not 5 stars? I think that, if you write such a kind of book (a "guide"), you should try to find a balance between the objective and the subjective, Steinberg tends decidedly to the subjective, which is good when he gives us so many insights about composers or conductors he met, much less so when this affects the selection criteria. For example, talking about American music, he spends pages talking about the Steinberg-dedicated Harbison Second (I bought the CD after I read the book and I found it very empty and rambling) and just a few (denigratory) lines about the Copland Third, which is a a classic , like it or not. And what about the almost total omission of the French symphonies? You won't find Franck and Bizet, as Amazon points, but also Saint-Saens is missing , and I don't think a book about symphonies can be without his Third. All in all, an indispensable issue, but with some flaws.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Symphonic Splendor April 22, 2009
By Roochak
I couldn't help but notice the seemingly endless complaints about works that aren't included in this book. Well, let's turn to the first page of Michael Steinberg's introduction, where he states that "Most of these essays began life as program notes for symphony concerts." In other words, he wrote about what the Boston and San Francisco Symphony Orchestras, which he worked for, were actually playing in the 1970s and '80s. If the Franck Symphony and the Copland Third, let alone any of C.P.E. Bach's twenty or so symphonies, aren't among the "electives" in this book, blame it on the orchestras' music directors, or perhaps the purchasers of season tickets.

Steinberg has the rare talent of writing about music in prose as precise and informed as it is imaginative and informal. He opens our ears to music that so often passes as background noise that we've nearly forgotten how to listen to it. Here, for example, is a stunning passage about the slow movement of Haydn's Symphony no. 102 in B flat:

"For the Adagio, Haydn borrows a movement from the Piano Trio in F-sharp minor he had written earlier that year...The actual sound of the movement is the most remarkable that Haydn ever imagined. Trumpets and drums are muted, a solo cello injects its gently penetrating timbre into the middle of the texture, and just before the end, the two trumpets in their lowest register contribute a sound so extraordinary (literally) that it still tends to frighten conductors, many of whom remove it."

A lifetime's worth of listening, learning, and writing have been distilled into this book, and gems of observation are on nearly every page. Try Steinberg on the question of Nowak vs.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A useful companion for both beginning and experienced listeners
Michael Steinberg’s The Symphony is a useful companion for both beginning and experienced listeners. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Philippe Vandenbroeck
5.0 out of 5 stars Must read for any music major or enthusiast
One of the only books I've kept since graduation. Very interesting to read - and easy to "skim" if necessary. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Natalie
5.0 out of 5 stars The late Michael Steinberg wrote the best and most thorough notes ever...
The late Michael Steinberg wrote the best and most thorough notes ever written on the Symphony. Many of the great orchestras of the world often relied on his work to include as... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Richard N SNYDER
4.0 out of 5 stars symphony
Good and easy to read review. I bought it as I try to update my understanding of Mahler, especially with the new or renewed interest. Read more
Published on December 5, 2011 by Richard Scott
1.0 out of 5 stars Kindle edition is poor quality
The other reviews have addressed the content in some detail. Readers are warned that the Kindle edition of the book is of poor quality. Read more
Published on October 4, 2011 by Colin
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding symphony playlist
After reading this book, I made a long playlist of every recording I had of any piece the author mentioned. What an incredible journey through the sound of the symphony orchestra. Read more
Published on July 15, 2011 by stravingus
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book, but Kindle edition does not begin at beginning
When I first opened this book, it began with symphony number 1 of Beethoven. And "go to beginning of book" in the index menu brings me to the same point. Read more
Published on August 2, 2009 by Olivia Shaffer
5.0 out of 5 stars Near perfect.
Since the glories of this book have already been trumpeted enough, I'll just suggest some great works that I think merit inclusion when Mr.Steinberg gets around to revising. Read more
Published on March 1, 2007 by Samuel Stephens
2.0 out of 5 stars Subjective - conservative playlist - good for what it does cover - a...
I got this book nearly a decade ago, and valued it a lot at the time. I hadn't seriously used it in quite some time, then, while reviewing some books I had just read, decided to... Read more
Published on January 21, 2006 by S. J. Snyder
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