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Top Five New Nonfiction Books About Classical Music

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Maestros, masterpieces, a minimalist and a modern instrument aren’t just highlights of the new classical music season — they’re subjects of a crop of new books about classical music. Here are our five favorite new nonfiction titles we’re hoping to read in between trips to concert halls:

1. Verdi’s Shakespeare: Men of the Theater by Garry Wills

Garry Wills, a Pulitzer Prize–winner who wrote Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America, looks at two pragmatists, William Shakespeare and Guiseppe Verdi, in Verdi’s Shakespeare: Men of the Theater, which will be released on Oct. 17. Both the composer and the playwright conceived and adapted their works exclusively for the stage, even weighing in on casting decisions. The book includes comparisons of the actors and singers who embodied the roles that Shakespeare initially created and Verdi later incorporated in his operas, such as Lady Macbeth.

2. Gustav Mahler by Jens Malte Fischer

All 766 pages of Jens Malte Fischer’s much-praised 2003 biography of Gustav Mahler were translated into an English edition, which came out this past August in time to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the troubled Austrian’s death. Fischer, a professor at the University of Munich, mined previously unpublished correspondence between Mahler and his wife Alma, as well as Alma’s diaries, to add to an already sizable amount of Mahler scholarship. American composer John Adams favorably reviewed the tome in The New York Times.

3. What Makes It Great by Rob Kapilow

Rob Kapilow has adapted his popular “What Makes It Great” lecture series into a book of the same name. Each of the 18 chapters explores a short work of a different composer from Vivaldi to Debussy, in roughly chronological order. You may not discover any new pieces — Kapilow dissects favorites such as the aria “Dove sono” and the “Hallelujah chorus” for the Mozart and Handel sections, respectively — but it does give insight into why these pieces are still recognizable hundreds of years after their premieres. An online listening guide, which is still in the works, promises plenty of audio examples.

4. A Natural History of the Piano: The History, the Music, the Musicians — from Mozart to Modern Jazz and Everything in Between by Stuart Isacoff

Sometime in between editing Piano Today magazine, performing, lecturing and composing, Stuart Isacoff wrote A Natural History of the Piano: The History, the Music, the Musicians—from Mozart to Modern Jazz and Everything in Between (available Nov. 15). The book promises to be a must-read for anyone who’s ever tickled the ivories, with prose devoted to technical innovators who created modern instrument, as well as those who played it. Isacoff will also talk about the book in a December lecture at 92YTribeca.

5. Draw A Straight Line and Follow It: The Music and Mysticism of La Monte Young by Jeremy Grimshaw

Brigham Young professor Jeremy Grimshaw shines a light on a composer who obsessively eschewed attention in the upcoming Draw A Straight Line and Follow It: The Music and Mysticism of La Monte Young (out next month). It purports to be the first book-length study of the minimalist pioneer's work and his influence on fellow musicians such as Terry Riley, Brian Eno and the band the Velvet Underground, as well as artists such as Andy Warhol.