5 great books on classical music for Christmas (or any other occasion)

by | Published on Dec 13, 2017 | Miscellaneous | 0 comments

5 ideas for a great gift around music

Need an idea for a special musical gift?

I’ve chosen 5 books among the ones I’ve read this year: all of them are around classical music (of course!); what they also have in common is the flowing of the writing and the easiness of the reading. So, whether you want something informative or a novel, take your pick and enjoy!

Language of the Spirit

For many, classical music is something serious, played by cultivated musicians at fancy gatherings. In this book, Jan Swafford argues just the opposite: classical music has something for everyone and is accessible to all. It’s what we tried to show in our last concert. Here, ranging from Gregorian chant to Handel’s Messiah, from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons to the minimalism of Philip Glass, Swafford shows all his expertise in tracing the history of Western music, introducing the readers to the most important composers and compositions, and explaining the underlying structure and logic of their music in a language accessible to everyone.

Opera: Passion, Power and Politics


Opera is traditionally regarded as an elitist art form far removed from reality by its fantastical plots and melodramatic divas: it’s everything but. Each opera is a product of its own time and draws characters and situations from society and political and historical facts: but most of all it draws on essential human experiences, creating a form of art that can be endlessly reinvented to reflect a changing society. Featuring interviews to prominent stars like tenor Placido Domingo and conductor Antonio Pappano, this book focuses on seven opera premieres in different eras, going from Monteverdi all the way to Shostakovich.

Verdi: the man revealed

Giuseppe Verdi remains one of the greatest, if not the greatest, operatic composer that Italy, the home of opera, has ever produced. Yet throughout his lifetime, he claimed to detest composing and repeatedly rejected it, at one point wanting to leave music for politics. He was a farmer and a symbol of Italian independence; he doubted himself in being able to write a proper fugue (an intricate type of composition mastered by Bach); he didn’t think he would have the energy or enough time left to write his last masterpiece. His life went through a century that changed all the equilibriums in the peninsula, united under one nation in 1861. His music reflects the story of Italy in that century.

When the world stopped to listen


This book is a great mix of narrative and history: American pianist Harvey Van Cliburn won the 1958 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow. The competition was to show the superiority of Russia on the United States, but in the middle of the cold war, a young American changed history with an 8 minutes long standing ovation after his performance in the final round of the competition. The judges had to ask for permission to award him the first prize directly to Nikita Chruščёv. In this thrilling book, Isacoff traces not just the career of one of the greatest pianists in history but also the world around him, the political, family and society events that first made him and later destroyed him.

Ghost Variations: The Strangest Detective Story in the History of Music

This book was a surprise: based on historical facts, it’s the thrilling story of Schumann’s lost violin concerto and Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Arányi, one-time muse to composers such as Bartók, Ravel and Elgar. The story sets out in the 1930s with the Nazi rising and the great depression as a backdrop. While the violinist is contacted by the spirit of Robert Schuman himself, begging her to give the violin concerto his life back, the Nazi for their own reasons decide to do the same, giving way to a race to perform it before anyone else. The narrative is exquisite, and it just left me with wanting to turn the page to see how it was going to end.

Cover photo by rawpixel.com

About the author

Gianmaria Griglio

Gianmaria Griglio

Composer and conductor, Gianmaria Griglio is the co-founder and Artistic Director of ARTax Music.

Interested in some more music? Take a look at this series!

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