Classical KUSC Arts Alive Blog

Arts Alive Blog


Arts Alive Gift Guide: Must-Read Books For Classical Enthusiasts

Posted By: Gail Eichenthal · 12/13/2013 11:47:00 AM

A longtime listener named Rachel e-mailed the station a few days ago, hoping we could recommend some great books on classical music as holiday gifts for her boyfriend, who streams Classical KUSC every waking hour.

Brian Lauritzen weighed in, recommending a pair of books by Michael Steinberg, brilliant longtime program annotator for the San Francisco Symphony: The Symphony and The Concerto. Brian also suggested the widely praised book by Alex Ross, music critic of The New Yorker Magazine, The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century.

I echoed Brian’s choices, adding Steinberg’s Choral Masterworks: A Listener’s Guide, the great anthology about the L.A. music scene, So I’ve Heard by Alan Rich, and a highly readable memoir as well as primer on the creative process by composer John Adams, Hallelujah Junction. Finally, for old (and new) time’s sake, the trusty A History of Western Music by J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Grout, and Claude V. Palisca (back in the day, in an earlier edition, this ubiquitous music history textbook was referred to by all as simply,“Grout”).

And playing a numbers game, Dennis Bartel suggested Rachel nab for her KUSC addict boyfriend The 50 Greatest Composers and their 1,000 Greatest Works.

Then I remembered that none other than USC Thornton School of Music Dean Rob Cutietta himself had researched this area quite comprehensively for an edition of “Ask the Dean”. Another listener, Dan M., had queried the Dean about suggestions in three categories: a must-read book on music for all Americans; something to enlighten the casual music lover, and finally, books Dean Rob and his faculty have just really enjoyed. Dean Rob, in turn, asked a sampling of his faculty, and the fascinating results of the survey are below.

Some of the books are classics; The Joy of Music by Leonard Bernstein was on our family bookshelf, and, in addition to Grout, I was assigned Charles Rosen's The Classical Style as a music major at UCLA, and found it surprisingly rich and evocative. (Still, I admit to being stunned when pianist Jeremy Denk and composer Steven Stucky announced plans to turn Rosen’s textbook into a tongue-in-cheek opera, to be unveiled at the 2014 Ojai Music Festival!).

It's awfully nice to see a longtime KUSC friend, USC's own illustrious neuroscientist, Dr. Antonio Damasio, pop up on several lists, as well as the beloved classic, The Enjoyment of Music by Joseph Machlis.

Do you have a suggestion? Leave it in the comments below. Have a great holiday!


What one book on music do you think every educated American should have read?

Title Author Professor
Escaping the Delta Robert Johnson Ken Lopez
The Invention of the Blues Elijah Wald Ken Lopez
The Enjoyment of Music  Joseph Machlis Lucinda Carver
Music: An Appreciation Roger Kamien Lucinda Carver
Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening Christopher Small Beatriz Ilari
A Guide to Musical Styles  Douglas Moore Alan Smith
Listening to Music  Douglas Moore Alan Smith
The Classical Style  Charles Rosen Bruce Brown
The Rest is Noise Alex Ross Ken Lopez, Lucinda Carver, Margaret Batjer, Bruce Brown, Judith Farmer
Musicophilia Oliver Sacks Ken Lopez, Margaret Batjer, Beatriz Ilari
The World That Made New Orleans: Spanish Silver to Congo Square Nick Sublette Ken Lopez
Cuba and it's Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo Nick Sublette Ken Lopez


What collection of books would you recommend for serious,  but non-professional, music lovers to advance their insights, understandingand enjoyment of the art?

Title Author Professor
What to Listen for in Music Aaron Copland Lucinda Carver
The Joy of Music  Leonard Bernstein Lucinda Carver
Music: An Illustrated Encylopedia of Musical Instruments and the Great Composers Max Wade-Matthews and Wendy Thompson Lucinda Carver
Music in everyday life Tia De Nora Beatriz Ilari
The Musical Ear: Oral Tradition in the USA  Anne McLucas Beatriz Ilari
From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present  Jacques Barzun Alan Smith
New Oxford History of Music  Richard Taruskin Bruce Brown
The Rest is Noise Alex Ross Ken Lopez, Lucinda Carver, Margaret Batjer, Bruce Brown, Judith Farmer
The Unanswered Question Leonard Bernstein Margaret Batjer
The Great Pianists from Mozart to the Present Harold Schonberg Lucinda Carver
The Lives of the Great Composers Harold Schonberg Lucinda Carver
Facing the Music Harold Schonberg Lucinda Carver
The Great Conductors Harold Schonberg Lucinda Carver
The Glorious Ones Harold Schonberg Lucinda Carver
This is Your Brain on Music Daniel Levitin Margaret Batjer
The World in Six Songs, How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature Daniel Levitin Margaret Batjer
Self Comes to Mind Antonio Damasio Margaret Batjer


What books about music have you read recently that were really fun reads?

Title Author Professor
An Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederic the Great in the Age of Enlightenment James R. Gaines Lucinda Carver
The Rest is Noise  Alex Ross Ken Lopez, Lucinda Carver, Margaret Batjer, Bruce Brown, Judith Farmer
Opera Antics and Anecdotes  Stephen Tanner Lucinda Carver
The Singing Neanderthals  Stephen Mithen Beatriz Ilari
Musicophilia Oliver Sacks Ken Lopez, Margaret Batjer, Beatriz Ilari
Was Mozart Poisoned? : Medical Investigations into the Lives of the Great Composers  John O'Shea Alan Smith
The Soloist Mark Salzman Margaret Batjer
Looking for Spinoza Antonio Damasio Margaret Batjer
Beethoven's Letters Collection   Margaret Batjer
Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock and Roll Rick Coleman Ken Lopez
Electric Eden Rob Young Ken Lopez
The Devil's Music Master - the Controversial Life and Career of Wilhem Furtwängler  Sam Shirakawa Lucinda Carver
How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (and Why You Should Care) Ross Duffin Lucinda Carver
Music in the Galant Style: Being an Essay on Various Schemata Characteristic of Eighteernth-Century Music for Courtly Chambers, Chapels, and Theaters, Including Tasteful Passages of Music Drawn from the Most Excellent Chapel Masters in the Employ of Noble and Noteworthy Personages, Said Music all Collected for the Reader’s Delectation on the World Wide Web Robert Gjerdingen Bruce Brown


Our contributors from the USC Thornton Music School faculty are:

Margaret BatjerConcertmaster of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra since 1998, a busy performer in the film studios, in chamber music circles, and a member of the USC Thornton School of Music faculty since 2005.

Bruce Brown: Professor of Musicology at USC Thornton, expert on Mozart, 18th Century Opera and Ballet, and the music of Gluck.

Lucinda Carver: Conductor, pianist and harpsichordist, as well as Vice Dean of the USC Thornton School’s Division of Classical Performance Studies

Judith Farmer: Heads the bassoon studio at Thornton, and performs in the film studios as well as with such groups as LA Opera, the LA Chamber Orchestra, and in many chamber music settings.

Beatriz IlariAssistant Professor of Music Education and an internationally respected leader in the field.

Ken Lopez: Clinical Professor of Music Industry at Thornton, who teaches such topics as acoustics, live music production, marketing, and product development.

Alan Smith: Pianist, collaborative artist, Professor of Keyboard Studies and Collaborative Arts.

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