As part of our ongoing celebration of Classical Music Month in September, we’ve pulled together a list of books that commemorate the great composers of the past through to the celebrated contemporary composers of today. Then we’ve sprinkled in some page turners that highlight the incredible artistry that defines classical music. Whether you enjoy reading about Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff or John Williams, or you’re looking to share your love of classical music with young learners and listeners, below are our favorites for music lovers of all ages. If you purchase your books or kindle online, you can support the Symphony every time you make a purchase through AmazonSmile.
Know Before You Go!
Below are books from or about composers whose work Pacific Symphony will perform during its 2022-23 season.
When Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky died of cholera in 1893, he was without a doubt Russia’s most celebrated composer. Drawing extensively on Tchaikovsky’s uncensored letters and diaries, this richly documented biography explores the composer’s life and works, as well as the larger and richly robust artistic culture of nineteenth-century Russian society, which would propel Tchaikovsky into the international spotlight.
CONCERT: Want to enjoy Tchaikovsky’s music? Join us at the concerts below.
Tchaikovsky Spectacular on September 4, 2022
Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto on October 20-22, 2022
Nutcracker for Kids! on December 3, 2022
Tchaikovsky & Strauss on February 23-25, 2023
Tchaikovsky’s Fourth on February 26, 2023
Tales from Italy on April 30, 2023
This magnificent biography of Ludwig van Beethoven peels away layers of legend to get to the living, breathing human being who composed some of the world’s most iconic music. Jan Swafford (Brahms and Mozart) mines sources never before used in English-language biographies to reanimate the revolutionary ferment of Enlightenment-era Bonn, where Beethoven grew up and imbibed the ideas that would shape all of his future work. Swafford then tracks Beethoven to Vienna, capital of European music, where he built his career in the face of critical incomprehension, crippling ill health, romantic rejection, and “fate’s hammer,” his ever-encroaching deafness. More than a decade in the making, this will be the standard Beethoven biography for years to come.
CONCERT: Want to enjoy Beethoven’s music? Join us at the concerts below.
Beethoven & Boléro on September 22-24, 2022
Bach & Beethoven with George Li on October 9, 2022
Respighi & Beethoven with Shunta Morimoto on January 22, 2023
Mozart & Beethoven with Drew Petersen on April 23, 2023
Proclaimed the new messiah of Romanticism by Robert Schumann when he was only 20, Johannes Brahms dedicated himself to a long and extraordinarily productive career. Making unprecedented use of the remaining archival material, Jan Swafford offers richly expanded perspectives on Brahms’s youth, his difficult romantic life–particularly his longstanding relationship with Clara Schumann–and his professional rivalry with Lizst and Wagner. Judicious, compassionate, and full of insight into Brahms’s human complexity as well as his music, Johannes Brahms is an indispensable biography.
CONCERT: Want to enjoy Brahms’ music?
Join us for Brahms Symphony No. 4 on October 23, 2022
This absorbing and award-winning biography tells the story of the tragedies and triumphs of Clara Wieck Schumann (1819–1896). At once artist, composer, editor, teacher, wife, and mother of eight children, she was an important force in the musical world of her time. To show how Schumann surmounted the obstacles facing female artists in the nineteenth century, Nancy B. Reich has drawn on previously unexplored primary sources: unpublished diaries, letters, and family papers, as well as concert programs. Highlighting aspects of Clara Schumann’s personality and character that have been neglected by earlier biographers, this candid and eminently readable account adds appreciably to our understanding of a fascinating artist and woman.
CONCERT: Want to enjoy Clara Schumann’s music?
Join us for Clara Schumann’s Legacy on November 6, 2022
Gustav Holst’s “Planets” suite has become established as one of the classics of twentieth-century orchestral music. Biographer Michael Short’s access to Holst’s letters and diaries, as well as his close work with Holst’s daughter Imogen, have resulted in the most detailed book on the composer’s life and music yet. This book includes an analysis of Holst’s musical style and a substantial reference section.
CONCERT: Want to enjoy Holst’s music?
Join us for The Planets on November 17-19, 2022
This volume represents one of the first serious explorations of Rachmaninoff’s successful career as a composer, pianist, and conductor, first in late Imperial Russia, and then after emigration in both the United States and interwar Europe. Shedding light on some unfamiliar works, especially his three operas and his many songs, the book also includes a substantial number of new documents illustrating Rachmaninoff’s celebrity status in America.
CONCERT: Want to enjoy Rachmaninoff’s music
Join us for Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances on December 1-4, 2022
In the late summer of 1741, George Friderick Handel composed an oratorio set to words from the King James Bible, rich in tuneful arias and magnificent choruses. Jonathan Keates recounts the history and afterlife of Messiah, one of the best-loved works in the classical repertoire. He relates the composition’s first performances and its relationship with spirituality in the age of the Enlightenment and examines how Messiah, after Handel’s death, became an essential component of our musical canon. An authoritative and affectionate celebration of the high point of the Georgian golden age of music, Messiah is essential reading for lovers of classical music.
CONCERT: Handel’s Glorious Messiah on December 4, 2022
A best-seller when first published in Germany in 2003, Jens Malte Fischer’s Gustav Mahler has been lauded by scholars as a landmark work. Fischer explores Mahler’s early life, his relationship to literature, his achievements as a conductor in Vienna and New York, his unhappy marriage, and his work with the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic in his later years. He also illustrates why Mahler is a prime example of artistic idealism worn down by Austrian anti-Semitism and American commercialism. Gustav Mahler is the best-sourced and most balanced biography available about the composer, a nuanced and intriguing portrait of his dramatic life set against the backdrop of early 20th century America and fin de siècle Europe.
CONCERT: Mahler 9 on January 12-14, 2022
This is the first English language biography of Ottorino Respighi, the most performed Italian composer of the twentieth century. Best known for his so-called Roman trilogy, (Fountains of Rome, Pines of Rome and Roman Festivals), this book documents the story of his rise to fame and offers a fascinating insight into the active lifestyle of an internationally renowned musician, who made an important contribution to the revival of interest in early music.
CONCERT: Want to enjoy Respighi’s music
Join us for Respighi: Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No. 1 on January 22, 2023
Sergey Prokofiev Diaries
An inexhaustibly rich portrait of a vibrant artistic culture on the edge of war and revolution, Prokofiev’s Diaries are both a dramatic illumination of a great composer’s creativity and an indispensable contribution to our understanding of musical modernism. They constitute an essential and entertaining reference for all lovers of Prokofiev’s music.
CONCERT: Want to enjoy Prokofiev’s music? Join us at the concerts below.
Prokofiev: Suite from Romeo and Juliet on February 2-4 & 5, 2023
A masterful blend of biography and musical analysis. Readers will discover many new facets of the familiar but misunderstood composer and gain new perspectives on one of the most formidable musical geniuses of all time.
CONCERT: Want to enjoy Mendelssohn’s music?
Join us for Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 3 “Scottish” on March 16-18, 2023
From the acclaimed composer and biographer Jan Swafford (Brahms and Beethoven) comes the definitive biography of one of the most lauded musical geniuses in history, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
At the earliest ages it was apparent that Wolfgang Mozart’s singular imagination was at work in every direction. He hated to be bored and hated to be idle, and through his life he responded to these threats with a repertoire of antidotes mental and physical. Whether in his rabidly obscene mode or not, Mozart was always hilarious. He went at every piece of his life, and perhaps most notably his social life, with tremendous gusto. His circle of friends and patrons was wide, encompassing anyone who appealed to his boundless appetites for music and all things pleasurable and fun.
CONCERT: Want to enjoy Mozart’s music? Join us at the concerts below.
“More thorough biographies than Walter Rimler’s slender volume exist … but for those of us interested less in the technical details of Gershwin’s music and its performance than in the comet called George Gershwin that blazed briefly across American skies, Mr. Rimler is the astronomer of choice.” The Wall Street Journal
CONCERT: Want to enjoy Gershwin’s music? Join us at the concerts below.
Just for Fun!
Below are books about composers and Classical Music ranging from old-world favorites to music trivia to classics from the Silver Screen.
Opening for the first time the door of his creative laboratory, Morricone offers an exhaustive and rich account of his life, from his early years of study to genre-defining collaborations with the most important Italian and international directors, including Leone, Bertolucci, Pasolini, Argento, Tornatore, Malick, Carpenter, Stone, Nichols, De Palma, Beatty, Levinson, Almodóvar, Polanski, and Tarantino. In the process, Morricone unveils the curious relationship that links music and images in cinema, as well as the creative urgency at the foundation of his experimentations with “absolute music”. Throughout these conversations with De Rosa, Morricone dispenses invaluable insights not only on composing but also on the broader process of adaptation and what it means to be human. As he reminds us, “Coming into contact with memories doesn’t only entail the melancholy of something that slips away with time, but also looking forward, understanding who I am now. And who knows what else may still happen.”
One of the most revered composers of the twentieth century, Claude Debussy (1862–1918) achieved the unheard of: he reinvented the language of music without alienating the majority of music lovers. Debussy drove French music into entirely new regions of beauty and excitement at a time when old traditions threatened to stifle it. Yet despite his profound influence on French culture, Debussy’s own life was complicated and often troubled by struggles over money, women, and ill health. Here, Stephen Walsh, acclaimed author of Stravinsky, chronicles both the composer himself and the unique moment in European history that bore him. Walsh’s engagingly original approach is to enrich a lively biography with analyses of Debussy’s music: from his first daring breaks with the rules as a Conservatoire student to his achievements as the greatest French composer of his time.
In Absolutely on Music, internationally Haruki Murakami sits down with his friend Seiji Ozawa, the revered former conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, for a series of conversations on their shared passion: music. Over the course of two years, Murakami and Ozawa discuss everything from Brahms to Beethoven, from Leonard Bernstein to Glenn Gould, from Bartók to Mahler, and from pop-up orchestras to opera. They listen to and dissect recordings of some of their favorite performances, and Murakami questions Ozawa about his career conducting orchestras around the world.
Culminating in Murakami’s ten-day visit to the banks of Lake Geneva to observe Ozawa’s retreat for young musicians, the book is interspersed with ruminations on record collecting, jazz clubs, orchestra halls, film scores, and much more. A deep reflection on the essential nature of both music and writing, Absolutely on Music is an unprecedented glimpse into the minds of two maestros.
This classic work is perhaps Bernstein’s finest collection of conversations on the meaning and wonder of music. This book is a must for all music fans who wish to experience music more fully and deeply through one of the most inspired, and inspiring, music intellects of our time. Employing the creative device of “Imaginary Conversations” in the first section of his book, Bernstein illuminates the importance of the symphony in America, the greatness of Beethoven, and the art of composing. The book also includes a photo section and a third section with the transcripts from his televised Omnibus music series, including “Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony ” “The World of Jazz ” “Introduction to Modern Music ” and “What Makes Opera Grand.”
From the triumphant “Main Title” in Star Wars to the ominous bass line of Jaws, John Williams has penned some of the most unforgettable film scores—while netting more than fifty Academy Award nominations. This updated and revised edition of Emilio Audissino’s groundbreaking volume takes stock of Williams’s creative process and achievements in music composition, including the most recent sequels in the film franchises that made him famous. Audissino discusses Williams’s unique approach to writing by examining his neoclassical style in context, demonstrating how he revived and revised classical Hollywood music. This volume details Williams’s lasting impact on the industry and cements his legacy as one of the most important composers in movie history. A must for fans and film-music lovers alike.
Today, musical composition for films is more popular than ever. In professional and academic spheres, media music study and practice are growing; undergraduate and postgraduate programs in media scoring are offered by dozens of major colleges and universities. And increasingly, pop and contemporary classical composers are expanding their reach into cinema and other forms of screen entertainment. Through extensive and unprecedented analyses of the original concert scores, this book is the first to offer both aspiring composers and music educators a view from the inside of the actual process of scoring-to-picture.
Below are books for school-aged children, designed to explore the worlds and music of classical music composers.
This book teaches elementary school children what opera is by asking “Who writes the words?”, “Who makes an opera happen? “Who is backstage?” These questions and more are answered with easy-to-understand explanations and illustrations. Ages 8-11
Author Andrew Gibbs gives you a comprehensive list of facts about Mozart, explaining the important accomplishments and events in his life. Reading a complete biography can be daunting for a youngster, but Gibbs presents Mozart’s life in 59 easy-to-understand segments. Ages 9-12
This book explores the stories of twenty-five male composers and twenty-five female composers and how they came to be famous. Perfect for music teachers and music lovers, this book was written to help both young and adult readers enjoy classical music. Ages 10+
Share with Young Learners
Below are books designed for sharing your love of music with little music learners.
This wonderful book has a button on every spread, which triggers one of six captivating sounds that introduces a memorable piece from some of the most beloved compositions of western classical music. An incredibly simple but utterly fascinating interactive book with sounds bound to enchant young readers and ignite an early love of classical music! Includes pieces from Mozart, Vivaldi, Strauss, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, and Paganini! Ages 1-2
Meet Allegro, an ordinary boy who can’t stand practicing the piano. Those black dots on the page drive him crazy―until the music itself whisks him away on a breathtaking journey. With the press of a button hear Grieg’s Morning Mood, Dvořák’s New World Symphony, Debussy’s Claire de Lune, and seven more! Ages 1-3
The Story Orchestra Series
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in One Day
Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker
Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty
Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake
Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals
Mozart’s Magic Flute
Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King
This series brings classical music to life for children through gorgeously illustrated retellings of classic ballet, opera, and program music stories paired with 10-second sound clips of orchestras playing from their musical scores. With The Story Orchestra keyboard sound books, children can play the famous melodies themselves with the sound of a real grand piano. Ages 2-5
Children and adults can enjoy this timeless picture book as a traditional read-along, or can choose to listen to original musical compositions as they read–one for each animal–with a free interactive smartphone app, which uses augmented reality to play the appropriate song for each page when a phone’s camera is held over it. Ages 3-6
To sweeten the anticipation, prolong the joy, or just to establish a lovely tradition—settle in with this charming retelling of a young girl’s dreamy visit to the Land of the Sugarplum Fairy. The story is enhanced with magnificent color illustrations created especially for this edition by the late award-winning artist Don Daily. Ages 4-8
CONCERT: Join us for Nutcracker for Kids!
Based on a true story about the famous composer and his beloved pet starling, this enchanting tale celebrates inspiration in any form it takes. Ages 5-9