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The Vintage Guide to Classical Music Paperback – December 15, 1992

4.8 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

The most readable and comprehensive guide to enjoying over five hundred years of classical music -- from Gregorian chants, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to Johannes Brahms, Igor Stravinsky, John Cage, and beyond.
The Vintage Guide to Classical Music is a lively -- and opinionated -- musical history and an insider's key to the personalities, epochs, and genres of the Western classical tradition. Among its features:
-- chronologically arranged essays on nearly 100 composers, from Guillaume de Machaut (ca. 1300-1377) to Aaron Copland (1900-1990), that combine biography with detailed analyses of the major works while assessing their role in the social, cultural, and political climate of their times;
-- informative sidebars that clarify broader topics such as melody, polyphony, atonality, and the impact of the early-music movement;
-- a glossary of musical terms, from a cappella to woodwinds;
-- a step-by-step guide to building a great classical music library.
Written with wit and a clarity that both musical experts and beginners can appreciate, The Vintage Guide to Classical Music is an invaluable source-book for music lovers everywhere.

About the Author

Composer and writer Jan Swafford received degrees from Harvard and the Yale School of Music; his work has been played throughout the United States and abroad. Among his awards are an NEA Composers Grant, a Tanglewood Fellowship and a Mellon Faculty Fellowship at Harvard.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (December 15, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679728058
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679728054
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #50,719 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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 are looking for both composer information (and how a particular composer fits into the canon of classical music) and recommendations for specific recordings of works of classical composers. While I have a few such books in my own library, these tend to date themselves quickly on the recommended-recordings side while remaining serviceable on the composer-description side. I have a better recommendation for those interested, which I provide in my concluding remarks. For now, I'll limit my comments to the composer-description (or, better, composer-contribution) side of the matter, and the strengths of Swafford's book.

My experience with such books goes back to Aaron Copland's 1957 "What to Listen for in Music." This classic played a large role in getting me on my own journey in classical music, but it is now quite out of date; it doesn't even touch on the most recent half-century. (William Schuman updated this book, but even that fell well short of the mark for those interested in contemporary music.)

This Swafford book is, I believe, the best of its kind for the purpose of setting out the "essential canon of classical music" and the composers (and their key works) who comprise it.
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Format: Paperback
When I first decided to learn more about classical music, this was the first book I turned to. "The Vintage Guide to Classical Music" is an excellent reference guide for those who love this genre of music but don't know a great deal about it. Using reasonably detailed and very interesting biographical essays on the major composers, author Jan Swafford gives the reader an excellent historical overview of classical music from its beginnings until the early 1990s, when this book was published. Also included are "sidebars" which explain in clear and easy to understand prose different topics such as sonata form, melody, atonal music, etc. Swafford also includes a section which explains how to begin building a classical music library. I found this especially useful in building my own classical CD collection.

"The Vintage Guide to Classical Music" is extremely well written, and obviously well researched. It's also very entertaining! The author consistently demonstrates not only a wealth of knowledge about his subject, but his love for it as well. For me, this book remains an indispensable guide to classical music. Highly recommended!
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Format: Paperback
Looking for an introduction to the world of classical music, I came across this gem in the local library (um ... can we mention the library on Amazon.com?). The book was just what I was looking for, brief biographical sketches of major composers arranged in chronological order with accompanying notes on their place in the development of classical music.
The book is divided into classical music periods (Baroque, Romantic, etc.) in chronological order, with brief notes at the beginning of each period describing the times. The author then gives a brief biography for each major composer in that period, and afterward spends a few pages introducing the major works by that composer and suggesting which ones would be good to start with. At the end of the book, the author also has a good list of suggested works for building your own classical music library.
The author is very easy to read, and makes learning about classical composers and music interesting. He obviously has some opinions about composers music, but you can tell they are learned opinions, and they make the reading all the more fun.
This book is not just biographies, and not just a history of music, it is the history of classical music through the people who made that music. It is the ideal introduction to classical music, and a good book to have in your own library.
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Format: Paperback
I've been around Western art music for most of my life, as a listener who loves it and an amateur pianist who enjoys playing it. While over the course of that life I've picked up a huge amount of facts and information, it was always in bits and pieces. So I recently found myself interested in finding a good basic book on the Western art music tradition to consolidate what I knew (or THOUGHT I knew) - the history, composers, concepts, etc. The Essential Canon of Classical Music and The Rough Guide to Classical Music 3 (Rough Guide Music Guides) are both informative and entertaining, but seem to have holes in their presentation that make them seem less comprehensive than I was looking for. Conversely, A History of Western Music is a joyous wealth of knowledge, but more dense and academic than I had the time or attention for at that point.

Then I happened across Swafford's "Vintage Guide," and it was EXACTLY what I was looking for. His overview of the history and development of Western art music is deceptively accessible, being really easy to read and absorb while at the same time containing a wealth of information, much of which was surprising and new to me. His composer biographies are also entertaining, somewhat gossippy but never losing sight of the music these people produced. The sidebars introducing key musical concepts like polyphony and melody surprised me with their depth and thoroughness.
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