Skip to main content

 Favourites, Christmas Gift Ideas - Books on Classical Composers & Performers

Gift Guide 2020 If you're looking for the perfect present for music-loving family members and friends, then hopefully you will find something of interest amongst our suggestions below. For this first instalment we have focused on recent books about Classical composers and performers; not surprisingly, the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth has brought forth a slew of publications about him and his music!

Books on Beethoven

Laura Tunbridge; Viking; Hardback

Each chapter of this book focuses on a period of Beethoven's life, a piece of music, and a revealing theme, from family to friends, from heroism to liberty, transforming how we listen to his works. Published for the 250th anniversary of his birth, it provides a compelling, human portrayal of Beethoven and a fascinating journey into one of the world's most amazing creative minds.

Available Format: Book

Jan Caeyers; University of California Press; Hardback

This authoritative biography, endorsed by and produced in close collaboration with the Beethoven-Haus Bonn, expertly weaves together a deeply human and complex image of Beethoven - his troubled youth, his unpredictable mood swings, his desires, relationships, and conflicts with family and friends, the mysteries surrounding his affair with the "immortal beloved," and the dramatic tale of his deafness. It also offers new insights into Beethoven's music and its gradual transformation from the work of a skilled craftsman into that of a consummate artist.

Available Format: Book

Lewis Lockwood; Boydell & Brewer; Hardback

Lewis Lockwood, himself a much-lauded Beethoven biographer, tells the story of Beethoven biography, from the earliest attempts made directly after the composer's death to the present day. By following the story through to our own time, Lockwood identifies traditions that today's scholars and writers need to be aware of. Each biography reflects not only the individual writer's knowledge and interests, but also his inner sense of purpose, working within the intellectual framework of his time.

Available Format: Book

Mark Evan Bonds; Oxford University Press; Hardback

Despite the ups and downs of his personal life and professional career, Beethoven remained remarkably consistent in his most basic convictions about his art. This inner consistency provides the key to understanding his life and works. The iconic scowl so familiar from later images of the composer is but one of many attitudes he could assume and project through his music.

Available Format: Book

John Suchet; Classic FM; Paperback

In this revised edition for the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth, John Suchet shows us the man behind the music, revealing a difficult and complex character struggling to continue his profession as a musician despite increasing deafness. This updated edition of Suchet's acclaimed biography contains new material, including a detailed guide to Beethoven's most important compositions, family tree, and timeline.

Available Format: Book

Jeremy Yudkin; Boydell & Brewer; Hardback

This book discusses the myriad ways in which Beethoven begins his works, and the implications of these beginnings for listeners. Examining the opening moments of nearly 200 compositions, it offers a new method of analysis of Beethoven's music, at the same time setting it in context through a close study of beginnings in the compositions of Haydn, Mozart, and many other composers of the Classical Era.

Available Format: Book

Ruth Padel; Chatto & Windus; Paperback

The poems in Ruth Padel's illuminating biography in verse investigate what Beethoven's life and music might mean to us today, retracing his steps through war-torn Europe of the early nineteenth century, delving into his music, letters, diaries, and the conversation books he used when deaf to uncover the man behind the legend.

Available Format: Book

Books on Other Composers

Alex Ross; Fourth Estate; Hardback

Alex Ross, author of The Rest Is Noise, reveals how Richard Wagner became the proving ground for modern art and politics. With a narrative ranging from architecture to the novels of Philip K. Dick, from the Zionist writings of Theodor Herzl to the civil-rights essays of W.E.B. Du Bois, and from O Pioneers! to Apocalypse Now, this book explores what it means to be a Wagnerian. Neither apologia nor condemnation, it is a work of intellectual passion, urging us towards a more honest idea of how art acts in the world.

Available Format: Book

Kerry McCarthy; Oxford University Press; Hardback

This new biography traces Tallis's long career from his youthful appointment at Dover Priory to his years as a senior member of the Chapel Royal, revisiting the most important documents of his life and a wide variety of his musical works. It also takes readers on a guided journey along the River Thames to the palaces, castles, and houses where Tallis made music for the four monarchs he served. It ends with reflections on Tallis's will, his epitaph, and other post-mortem remembrances that give us a glimpse of his significant place in the sixteenth-century musical world.

Available Format: Book

Oliver Soden; Weidenfeld & Nicolson; Paperback

The music of British composer Michael Tippett is among the most visionary of the twentieth century. His first biography is now available in paperback. Oliver Soden weaves a century-spanning narrative of epic scope and penetrating insight, resulting in a landmark in the study of twentieth-century culture, simultaneously an astonishing feat of scholarship and a story as enthralling as in any great novel.

Available Format: Book

David Schulenberg: Oxford University Press; Hardback

Bach has remained a figure of continuous fascination and interest since the original Master Musicians volume's publication in 1983. Reflecting new biographical information that has only emerged in recent decades, this new edition contributes to an ongoing scholarly conversation about Bach with clarity and concision. Dispensing with biographical minutiae and more closely examining the interplay between his life and his music, it presents a grounded and refreshing new framing of a masterful composer.

Available Format: Book

Cate Haste; Bloomsbury; Paperback

Now available in paperback, this book draws extensively on previously unpublished diaries and letters to illuminate the passionate spirit of an extraordinary artist and intellect: Alma Mahler, whose life spanned one of the most captivating and dramatic periods in history. A talented composer in her own right, her first husband was Gustav Mahler.

Available Format: Book

William Melton; Toccata Press; Hardback

Engelbert Humperdinck's opera Hänsel und Gretel is one of the best-loved in the repertoire, and yet no full-length biography of the composer has ever been published in English. His other works remain essentially unknown, but they include five additional operas, ten further stage works, pieces for orchestra and for chorus, and many songs. This book sets an examination of his entire output in a biographical framework, with detailed, illustrated descriptions accompanied by quotations from his contemporaries.

Available Format: Book

Roger Nichols; Yale University Press; Hardback

Poulenc excelled in a wide repertoire - opera, songs, ballet scores, chamber works, piano music, choral works, orchestral pieces, and concertos. This book fully covers this wide range, while also describing the vicissitudes of Poulenc's life and the many important relationships he had with major figures such as Satie, Ravel, Stravinsky, Diaghilev, Cocteau and others.

Available Format: Book

Steven C. Smith; Oxford University Press; Hardback

With his iconic work for such classics as Casablanca, King Kong, Gone with the Wind, The Searchers, and over 200 other movies, Max Steiner did more than any other composer to establish the language of film music. This first full biography interweaves the dramatic incidents of his personal life with an exploration of his composing methods and experiences, bringing to life the story of a musical pioneer who helped to create a vital new art.

Available Format: Book

Barbara B. Heyman; Oxford University Press; Hardback

Generously documented by letters, sketches, and interviews with friends, colleagues, and performers, this is the most authoritative biography on Barber. This second edition benefits from new discoveries, including a recently-unearthed Violin Sonata, a diary Barber kept in his seventeenth year, letters and manuscripts that were recovered from a suitcase found in a bin, and documentation that dispels earlier myths about the composition of Barber's Violin Concerto.

Available Format: Book

Richard McGregor & Nicholas Jones; Boydell & Brewer; Hardback

This book provides a global view of the music of Peter Maxwell Davies, integrating a number of resonant themes in his work while covering a representative cross-section of his vast output. These themes include compositional technique and process; genre; form and architecture; tonality and texture; allusion, quotation and musical critique; and place and landscape.

Available Format: Book

Steven Zohn; Boydell & Brewer; Hardback

There has been a veritable explosion of performances, both live and recorded, of Telemann's music in recent decades, winning him an ever-increasing following among musicians and concert-goers worldwide, and yet this is the first guide to research on the composer in any language. It also includes a brief biography, dictionary, works listing, and selective bibliography.

Available Format: Book

Rae Linda Brown; University of Illinois Press; Paperback

This is the first-ever biography of Florence B. Price, a composer whose career spanned both the Harlem and Chicago Renaissances, and the first African American woman to gain national recognition for her works. Through interviews and a wealth of material from public and private archives, Rae Linda Brown illuminates Price's major works while exploring the depth of her achievement, and also traces her life, teaching, and her struggles with racism, poverty, and professional jealousies.

Available Format: Book

Colin Roust; Oxford University Press; Hardback

Georges Auric wrote well over 100 film scores, and was notably affiliated with Les Six, a group of French composers reacting to the musical establishment of the 1920s. But his life and work spanned far beyond this limited sphere. Drawing from three dozen untapped archives, including the private archives of Auric's widow, this first English-language biography rethinks the conventional ideas of what it means to be a composer.

Available Format: Book

Books on & by Classical Performers

András Schiff; Weidenfeld & Nicolson; Hardback

This stimulating account of the life and work of András Schiff takes readers on an intimate journey, discussing a range of topics including his musical training and his thoughts on technique and interpretation. More than just a memoir, this is a compilation of the thoughts and experiences of one of the greatest musicians of our time.

Available Format: Book

Helmut Deutsch; Kahn & Averill; Paperback

During a career spanning more than fifty years, pianist Helmut Deutsch has accompanied singers including Ian Bostridge, Grace Bumbry, Diana Damrau, Brigitte Fassbaender, Jonas Kaufmann, Thomas Quasthoff, Peter Schreier, and Anne Sofie von Otter. Translated from the German by Richard Stokes, this memoir describes, with humour, honesty and intelligence, his journey from unknown repetiteur to one of the most refined and sought-after accompanists of the modern era.

Available Format: Book

Zuzana Růžičková; Bloomsbury; Paperback

Now in paperback, this is the memoir of Zuzana Růžičková, Holocaust survivor and harpsichordist. She grew up in 1930s Czechoslovakia, but her childhood was torn apart when, in 1939, the Nazis invaded. Uprooted from her home, she was afflicted with crippling injuries to her hands. Yet her bravery and passion ensured her survival, and she went on to become the first harpsichordist to record the entirety of Bach's keyboard works.

Available Format: Book

Ernst Hanfstaengl was pianist, and foreign press chief for Hitler, claiming to have devised the chant of "Sieg Heil". When the two men fell out he fled to Britain, where he was interned and transferred to America. There he worked on Roosevelt's 'S-Project,' informing on 400 leading Nazis. Through newly declassified documents and interviews with surviving family members, this book recounts his life.

Available Format: Book

Stephen Hough; Faber & Faber; Paperback

In this new paperback edition, one of the world's leading pianists writes about life as a musician, from exploring what it is like to walk out on stage or to make a recording, to tips from inside the practice room. He also writes about people he's known, places he's travelled to, books he's read, paintings he's seen, and touches on more controversial subjects, including the challenges involved in being a gay Catholic.

Available Format: Book

James Rhodes; Quercus; Hardback

Learn to play one of Bach's most exquisite preludes in just six weeks, even if you have never played the piano before. Pianist James Rhodes promises that it gives anyone with a piano or an electric keyboard and just 45 minutes a day the tools they need to learn to play Bach's Prelude No. 1 in C Major, even if they have never even touched a piano before. This inspirational book is guaranteed to soothe the mind, feed the soul and unleash creative powers we didn't know we still had.

Available Format: Book

Kadiatu Kanneh-Mason; Oneworld Publications; Hardback

Seven brothers and sisters, all of them classically trained musicians. Their mother, Kadiatu Kanneh-Mason, opens up about what it takes to raise a musical family in a Britain divided by class and race. What emerges is a beautiful and heart-rending memoir of the power of determination, camaraderie and a lot of hard work, and a joyous affirmation that children are a gift and we must do all we can to nurture them.

Available Format: Book

David Schoenbaum; WW Norton; Hardback

Despite modest origins as the child of Jewish immigrants in San Francisco, by the early 1940s talent and practice had brought Isaac Stern a Carnegie Hall debut alongside critical acclaim. Wide-ranging yet intimate, this book offers a portrait of an artist and musical statesman who left a profound musical and cultural legacy.

Available Format: Book