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202 of 204 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A no-brainer recommendation for classical music newbies.
I spend a fair bit of time (well, perhaps *too* much time) participating in classical music discussion boards on the internet. A frequent question that arises from people new to classical music is that of a good reference book to acquaint them with the field. Generally, what these newbies ask for is, in my experience, too much to expect from a single book: typically, they...
Published on December 2, 2004 by Bob Zeidler

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31 of 42 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good. Well written--but...
Duke Ellington, classical composer?! He need not become one regardless of Jan Swafford's attempt. I throughly enjoyed the book as to its biographies, its musical analysis. My only problem is not being an Anglo-American who has to wave a cultural flag and insist that classical music composers in the US and England have to compete with say, composers in France or Italy...
Published on August 26, 2001


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Listening to music and loving it!, July 1, 2001
By 
James Tomerlin (Bowie, MD United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Vintage Guide to Classical Music (Paperback)
Jan Swafford's "Vintage Guide to Classical Music" packs a lot of useful information into a relatively small space. The book provides a short course in music appreciation, but doesn't dictate what one should like or listen to. Granted, the book includes recommended works for each composer discussed, but avoids a didactic tone. The text traces the history of Western music from its beginnings to the mid-20th century. Swafford is a composer, and spends a substantial porftion of the book on 20th century composers. His thesis, however, is that so much has happened since 1900, that amount of space is required to adequately discuss developments during that time. It may come to a surprise to many that one of his "composers to watch" for the 20th century is Duke Ellington, whom Swafford believes wrote music that will endure.
For a book that tackles a serious subject and provides a lot of information, the writing - and thus the reading - is smooth. Composers are discussed chronologically, which aids our understanding of how music developed and how composers learned (stole!) from each other, building on the innovations of others. I found the discussion of themes, for example tonality and atonality, very informative, although the parrallel organization of these "sidebar" sections took some orientation. Although Swafford ignored one of my favorite pieces (Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D), I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn a bit about the history of music, why we like what we like, and why (and how) music moves us.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Oh Wow!, February 6, 2011
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This review is from: The Vintage Guide to Classical Music (Paperback)
After years of "meh - whatever" ambivalence toward classical music, I find myself suddenly hearing with brand new appreciation and loving it!

Thanks to the other great reviews here on Amazon, I have found this knock-your-socks-off entertaining guide to the world of classical music. There are fascinating bios on the composers themselves, and really interesting accounts of the major world events going on when they were living and composing.

Many of the examples can be found online, so I generally read this book with my laptop close by so I can pause reading immediately to actually listen to what the author is talking about.

It would be so very cool if there were a companion cd to this book, based on the works listed in the appendix!

However, I am now growing my own nifty little collection of classical cd's, and am just so happy that I can listen to the music now with a more educated ear.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the phenomenal beauty the classics have to offer.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Intro Guide, October 23, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Vintage Guide to Classical Music (Paperback)
I'm having a lot of fun using this book as I am learning about classical music. The book gives summaries of the musical eras in addition to information about the individual artists, what drove them, and the basic ideas behind their works. It's filled with lots of human interest and is enjoyable to read.
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31 of 42 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good. Well written--but..., August 26, 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Vintage Guide to Classical Music (Paperback)
Duke Ellington, classical composer?! He need not become one regardless of Jan Swafford's attempt. I throughly enjoyed the book as to its biographies, its musical analysis. My only problem is not being an Anglo-American who has to wave a cultural flag and insist that classical music composers in the US and England have to compete with say, composers in France or Italy (like sports, I guess). I was suprised not to find Granados, Albéniz nor Falla mentioned at all. Then again Swafford goes through the Renaissance without any Italian composers.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars *invaluable*, August 15, 2003
By 
theb0x (massachusetts) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Vintage Guide to Classical Music (Paperback)
after *5 years* of use, i have no choice but to upgrade my initial rating from four stars to five stars. initially i thought it emphasized modern classical music and jazz to a fault. that may still be true, to an extent, but that has not kept me from using this book almost daily. besides, i have developed an appreciation for modern classical, thanks in large part to this book, and it has been an indispensable component of my search. i still have no use for the jazz portion and it seems out of place, but the book lacks nothing so that's just a bonus, i guess.

i find myself turning to this time and time again... i take it with me when i go out to buy CDs and at home it's always nearby, ready to be rifled through at a moments notice. get it cheap and don't worry about getting a used copy. if you use it like i do, it'll get beaten up and written in very quickly. used together with the gramophone classical music guide and the penguin guide (although penguin's last release was a major disappointment), you'll have all the information needed to build a superb collection.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Educates and inspires, August 23, 2008
By 
Frank C. "Frank C." (Huntington, NY United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Vintage Guide to Classical Music (Paperback)
Simply put, this is an outstanding book. Had I read such a straightforward, yet educationally enriching book of the sort during my undergrad, I may have actually been interested in the history of music!

Swafford covers so much here, and yet it is effortless on the part of the reader. He strikes a pefect balance between placing the composers in a historical context, yet gives a great overview of essential works by these composers. And there are also essays on topics such as tonality/atonality, counterpoint, sonata form, etc. Of course, with a limited amount of space, there will be ommisions here and there that may seem heretic to some fans of certain composers, but hey , that's life.

This is a book that inspires you to listen to these composers in a new light. This has happened to me with Brahms, Wagner, Schubert, and Mendelsohn, as well as others.

Bravo to Mr. Swafford for an exceptional accomplishment. Also, don't miss his "Charles Ives: A Life with Music" - one of the best biographies I have ever read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book with sharp opinions, October 20, 2012
By 
Geoff Puterbaugh (Chiang Mai, T. Suthep, A. Muang Thailand) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Vintage Guide to Classical Music (Paperback)
Until I got to retirement age, I had been a big fan of classical music without really knowing much about it. I finally ordered this book to get myself some education.

The author has his strong opinions, but what the heck, so do I. I am never going to become a fan of atonal music -- in my opinion, the quickest & surest way of emptying a concert hall. But it was a bit disturbing to learn that Richard Strauss was "a pig" and that Bruckner was a "nincompoop" -- not that these facts affect their music in the slightest.

Two coincidences strengthened my opinion of this book. I had recently discovered Beethoven's Piano Concerto #4 on YouTube (Bernstein / Zimerman) and it blew me away. Swafford agrees that the Fourth is Beethoven's best piano concerto.

The second coincidence was Theodore Dalrymple's very enthusiastic mention of the Haydn String Quartets. I began listening to some of them on YouTube and realized that there was a complete universe of beautiful music I had never noticed before. Swafford has basically the same opinion, that classical music has nothing to compare with the Haydn Quartets.

There is a world of excellent information in this book, & I recommend it highly.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Splendid Gateway, October 14, 2014
By 
Eric Lee Smith (Philadelphia, PA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Vintage Guide to Classical Music (Paperback)
It sounds simple enough: write a series of short essays about all the classical composers that truly matter. The result though is actually a coherent and comprehensive tour through the language of the music, the composers themselves, and the evolution of the techniques and orchestration used over the centuries - and it is FUN to read.

The writing style is jaunty and descriptive and deeply reflective of the music being described. Try to describe sound, music, has got to be one of the most difficult challenges there is in writing but Jan Swafford never waivers, the book is compelling and colorful all the way through. Picked at random, here's a typical description: "In contrast to the thunderous playing of Liszt, Chopin never used fortissimo but rather shaded his dynamics downward toward the intimate and nearly inaudible." Or how about this description of Wagner: "By the late nineteenth century he would haunt the Western cultural tradition as pervasive myth and sacred monster." You just must read on.

This book also provides carefully chosen advice on which music you should start with for each composer. Within the body of the book these are detailed with Swafford usual colorful and concise language. At the back an appendix summarizes are the recommendations. So far this appendix has cost me several hundred dollars in happily spent purchases, with many more to come.

If you are at all interested in the subject of classical music then this is a splendid gateway.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Thank you for this book., September 2, 2014
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This review is from: The Vintage Guide to Classical Music (Paperback)
Enjoy the book very much. For the non-music major, who has not been exposed to a great deal of "classical music", this is a grand start. If one finds certain sections a little lacking, then it's because we were ready to move on to something other than this book. After all, some have been exposed to classical music early. Others have not, and need a place to start. The suggested playlist in the back is excellent. With the help of the wonders of the Internet, Amazon, Naxos, and other websites, we can figure out what versions of what song we want to hear all by ourselves. But we all have to have somewhere to start. Kudos to the author. Only suggestions I could think of at first read, was to improve the glossary, so that it matches closer the book. Some terms were lacking. Is there a possibility of a second version? Just asking.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The intage Guide to Classical Music, June 30, 2008
By 
This review is from: The Vintage Guide to Classical Music (Paperback)
This book contains essays on the life and works of nearly one hundred classical composers, arranged by historical periods. Has a section on suggestions for building a classical music library, a glossary of musical terms, and a list suggesting further reading. Appropriate as an academic research source, but written in a reader-friendly style, Also contains an index. Informative without being difficult. A good read as well as a good source of information. Highly recommended.
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The Vintage Guide to Classical Music
The Vintage Guide to Classical Music by Jan Swafford (Paperback - December 15, 1992)
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