Books About Music

Get to know music by reading

Classical music: books (summaries and overviews)

On this page, books that summarize the history of classical music are listed. Overviews of classical music, if you wish. Several different kinds of books fit into this section. There are books organized after the composers of classical music, books organized according to the different musical eras and so on. The time period covered is often the five major classical eras – the Renaissance Period (about 1450-1600), the Baroque Period (about 1600-1750), the Classical Period (about 1750-1815), the Romantic Period (about 1815-1910), and the 20th Century Period (1910-). Please note that these dates are merely approximations – in reality the periods constantly intersect.

As is usually the case with books summarizing a huge subject like this, they are a little better suited for general readers than, for instance, any books in the music analysis section. They should be perfectly readable for anyone interested in classical music.

Do you feel like purchasing any of these books? Please follow the links to Amazon (either US or UK)!

List of books

As of now, there are three books in this section.

Classical Music (Eyewitness Companions)

classical music books eyewitness companions john burrowsThis was the first book on the subject of classical music that I bought myself. Eyewitness Companions have a tendency to publish really good overviews – practically within any field. They are also well-known for their range of travel guides. Classical Music is an extremely popular book, known for being very accurate. It also covers most aspects that might interest you; elements of classical music, instruments of classical music, aspects of performance, early music, music from the baroque period, from the classical period, from the romantic period, and from the modern period. It also has an extensive chapter on romantic opera, and national schools (accounts of composers from different countries).

At this moment, the book has an amazing rating of 4.9 / 5, if combining the reviews from Amazon US and Amazon UK (10 in total), and it’s easy to see why. This book just never gets dull. Maybe it’s because of all the images …

Buy at (US) | Buy at (UK)

The Rough Guide to Classical Music

This book has a typical Rough Guides approach, focusing primarily on output. It lists the major composers of the classical periods, and provides (often quite extensive) biographies – from Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) to Thomas Adès (1971-). On average, there are also about three recommendations of recordings of the works written by the composers discussed on each page. Towards the end, there are a few pages with advertisements.

The Rough Guide to Classical Music has received generally positive reviews, whilst some tend to point out that it doesn’t really go in-depth on any of the composers. Now, given that the book is designed and organized to provide an overview of over 200 composers, I find it hard to understand how anyone could expect any real in-depth surveys. The book has almost 700 pages already! It also keeps the musical language at a very accessible level.

Buy at (US) | Buy at (UK)

Classical Music for Dummies

The Dummies Guides never let you down, not even in the field of classical music. Classical Music for Dummies was written by David Pogue, who has contributed to the Dummies series in several ways (having also written their guides on opera, magic, and macintosh computers). Pogue does great to make this subject interesting for practically anyone, making use of accessible grammar, and throwing in jokes every now and then.

One must understand about Classical Music for Dummies, that it is just that – for dummies. The greeting card humour is not used to make you roll on the floor laughing, but to give you the impression that there’s absolutely nothing dull about the subject. Reviewers giving low ratings tend to primarily find the humour annoying or unnecessary, but then they are probably not expecting what the book’s title invites us to expect.

Buy at (US) | Buy at (UK)

Book review page: 8. Published August 14, 2012 as Classical music: books.

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