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Six Summer Reads for Classical Music Fans

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Summer is prime season for reading. Whether you are headed to the beach or to your backyard, here are six recommendations for new music-related books to bring with you:

1. Moral Fire: Musical Portraits from America's Fin de Siècle by Joseph Horowitz

In Moral Fire: Musical Portraits from America's Fin de Siècle, prominant American music scholar Joseph Horowitz explores the lives of four heroic figures in the history of American classical music: Henry Higginson, who invented and owned the Boston Symphony Orchestra; Laura Langford, who presented Wagner concerts 14 times a week each summer in Coney Island; Henry Krehbiel, proactive “dean” of New York’s music critics, and Charles Ives, the iconoclastic composer. Though these individuals played very different roles in contributing to late-19th century American music, Horowitz argues that they all embraced in their own ways the important idea that art can be morally empowering. He further believes that this dynamic era can be a model for today's classical music leaders.

2. Music as Alchemy by Tom Service

Any classical music fan knows who the world’s best conductors are, but exactly what do Abbado, Rattle, and Gergiev do on the podium that makes them so extraordinary? Tom Service, the chief classical music critic for The Guardian, delves into the rehearsal rooms of some of the world’s greatest music directors to find out, and to dispel the myth of the tyrannical, despotic maestro, in Music as Alchemy.

3. Mozart at the Gateway to His Fortune by Christoph Wolff

Mozart at the Gateway to His Fortune, by Christoph Wolff, offers a new perspective on Mozart’s life. It explores the period from 1788-1791, when Mozart served Emperor Joseph II and composed many of his most beloved works, including his three greatest and final symphonies during the summer of 1788. For those whose understanding of Mozart’s music is often shadowed by the immediate context of his untimely death, this book may provide a refreshing look at the prosperity and promise that filled these years of his life.

4. The Music between Us: Is Music a Universal Language? by Kathleen Marie Higgins

Joining the many recent publications about the fascinating connections between music and our minds is Kathleen Marie Higgins's The Music between Us: Is Music a Universal Language? Higgins investigates the different ways in which music is used across cultures -- exploring its role in rituals, education, work and healing -- and why music has almost universal appeal to our deepest emotions and experiences. Higgins is a philosophy professor at the University of Texas but her approach encompasses aspects of psychology, musicology, linguistics and anthropology.

5. Music for Silenced Voices by Wendy Lesser 

Very few books about Shostakovich have been written for a general audience rather than a purely academic one; Wendy Lesser’s Music for Silenced Voices makes for one more. Lesser, an editor of The Threepenny Review, comes to the quartets as a passionate listener rather than as a musician or musicologist. As such, she takes the reader through Shostakovich’s intriguingly complex life with a narrative that follows his 15 string quartets in chronological order. 

6. When the Fat Lady Sings by David W. Barber

David W. Barber is the author of several bestselling books of humorous musical literature, including Accidentals on Purpose and Bach, Beethoven and the Boys. His 2000 book, When the Fat Lady Sings, looked at the history of opera in a similarly lighthearted way, but one that still leaves the reader informed and enlightened. It has now been re-released in a Kindle format.