8 books that will strike a chord with classical music lovers

Get in tuned with the genre by adding these titles to your reading list.

Step into the world of legendary composers and mucisions, both from our reality and fiction 

From guides for beginners to song recommendations and biographies of world-famous classical musicians, these titles with different genres are sure to educate and entertain.

Words without Music
By Philip Glass

In this no-holds-barred memoir, Philip Glass reveals the story of his childhood, growing up with a supportive father and persistent mother who put emphasis on the importance of education. Awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2015 by former president Barack Obama, the composer of Metamorphosis One and Glassworks worked all kinds of odd jobs to sustain his livelihood in Lower Manhattan while studying composition at The Juilliard School, New York. This riveting read recalls the experiences and people he met along the way to becoming one of the most influential classical music composers of the late 20th century.


Absolutely on Music
By Haruki Murakami

Absolutely on Music records an intimate conversation between Haruki Murakami and his close friend Seiji Ozawa over the course of two years. They talk about their shared passion — music — discussing Ozawa’s experiences conducting shows at the San Francisco Symphony, Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Vienna State Opera, as well as being music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 29 years. This book is personal to Murakami, a long-term classical-music aficionado who ran a jazz club in Tokyo before finding his calling in literature. It makes for a memorable read for book and music lovers alike.


Sing for Your Life: A Story of Race, Music, and Family
By Daniel Bergner

Personal and poignant, Sing for Your Life chronicles the story of Ryan Speedo Green, an American bass-baritone opera singer who had a rough upbringing in southeastern Virginia before taking over the stage at the Metropolitan Opera and some of Europe’s most prestigious opera houses. A troubled, uncontrollable child, Green was placed in solitary confinement at the age of 12. As Bergner pens Green’s path towards redemption, he introduces readers to a cast of memorable personalities who helped the singer redirect his indignation into music. Besides highlighting his relationship with family and music, the book also touches on the complex reality of race relations in the US.


Classical Music for Dummies
By David Pogue + Scott Speck

Mention “classical” and many automatically stay their hand from such creations. But music composed in the 1700s and 1800s was broadly enjoyed by many, not just the snobbish or elite. People would cheer in the midst of a concert, to which they brought friends, snacks and drinks. Time has not blunted the appeal of classical music, which remains catchy, thrilling and emotional, say David Pogue and Scott Speck. They introduce the great composers, a classical music timeline, a field guide to the orchestra, and audio and video tracks that explain music concepts, among other things, in this authoritative guide.


The Inner Voice: The Making of a Singer
By Renée Fleming

World-renowned American soprano Renée Fleming was raised by parents who were music teachers. With such an influence, it was natural that young Fleming would go on to pursue education and a career in the same field. The five-time Grammy winner recorded classical music extensively and has been awarded numerous honours. She has played remarkable operatic roles such as Countess Almaviva in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and Desdemona in Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello. She has added yet another role to her repertoire as an author, recapturing her own artistic development and presenting a privileged look at the making of a singer in The Inner Voice.


Year of Wonder: Classical Music to Enjoy Day by Day
By Clemency Burton-Hill

Classical music can be totally accessible, magical and medicinal, says a reviewer of Clemency Burton-Hill’s collection of such, specially curated for each day of the year. This book entices the reader to spend some minutes daily listening to music that makes him smile, lifts his spirits or prods thinking about the talent behind each work. Picking from across genres, time periods and composers, the author, also a violinist and broadcaster, explains each piece briefly for context then brings it to life for the listener, whether it is by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart,
George Gershwin, Philip Glass or Duke Ellington.


Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph
By Jan Swafford

The pianist-writer Jeremy Denk wrote in The New York Times that readers would want to have a recording playing so they could match Jan Swafford’s metaphors to sounds in this biography. Ludwig van Beethoven had an abusive alcoholic father and was mocked for his dark skin. He found fame through music but was dealt a cruel blow by life. Swafford mines fresh sources to reanimate Bonn and Vienna, cities in which the German composer grew up and built his career. He offers insightful readings of Beethoven’s iconic works, created as the pianist battled ill health, romantic rejection and ever-encroaching deafness.


Bel Canto
By Ann Patchett

Gun-wielding terrorists storm a lavish birthday party somewhere in South America as opera star Roxanne Coss entertains international guests gathered around Hosokawa, a powerful businessman who is being feted. But fears of horror take an unusual turn when the rebels and hostages begin to form unlikely relationships, as compatriots, friends and even lovers in this novel based on the Lima Crisis of 1996. The plot is based on a real-life incident when a terrorist group took over the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Peru and taking hundreds hostage, among them diplomats and military officials. After 126 days, the remaining 72 hostages were finally released when commandos raided the building.


This article first appeared on Sept 4, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.

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