Help: Classical-a primer for the unknowing?

Can anyone recommend a book/online course to become familiar with classical composers? I went to engineering school vice any sort of a liberal arts curriculum but am learning to love classical, and as a result, can’t identify composers to save my life. I simply don’t have the exposure.

I think back to the “educated” officers of WWII and flash back to this scene from Band of Brothers.

I want to know the right answers (I’ll never be an expert, not at this age) and not just the “oh, this was a piece X recommended-doesn’t it sound good on my system?”

Thank you for any advice.

1 Like

There is a book by Phil G. Goulding called “Classical Music - The 50 greatest composers and their 1000 greatest works”, which I enjoyed when I wanted to learn more about classical music pieces. I am a scientist by training and enjoyed the structure of this particular book.

For the past 25 years, I have listened to “Radio Swiss Classic” as background music during working hours. This is a great station for exposure to a range of classical music and despite the relatively low bit rate, the stream sounds quite nice. After a few weeks of listening, names and styles will begin to stick.


1 Like

Look for “The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection.” It’s dated, but an excellent primer. I used it when I was learning the major works. An easy read. There is also “The NPR Listener’s Encyclopedia of Classical Music.” I haven’t read it but it’s the same author and publisher. The NPR website also has lots of podcasts and online resources. Enjoy the journey!

Bloody hell. I learned what little I know, not being a trained musician, going to hundreds of concerts, a strong interest in European history, picking up information as I went along and piecing it together. It’s massive musical, cultural and social multi-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. I feel I’ve only scratched the surface after 40 years. I feel you really have to experience how it is performed rather than what it sounds like on a good stereo system. I would therefore tend to watch YouTube videos.

The BBC is an endless resource, such as:

Radio 3 guide to classical music
Story of Music

Composer of the week

One of my favourites was this series by Robert Winston about music and illness.

p.s. This has nothing to do with audio systems and this and that recording. My wife devours the BBC, mostly whilst going for long walks with headphones.

p.s. One answer is not to start with the Beethoven op. 131 quartet! His last piece of quartet writing, semi-religious, radical in structure, length and use of thematic material.

“The Lives of the Great Composers” by by Harold C. Schonberg is an old standby & a nice starting point.

Mike, I picked this up at Barnes & Noble a few years ago. It’s a great introduction to classical music. It has short bios on the composers and lists their major works, all categorized by the different eras of classical music. If you can find it, I think it would be a good book for you.

“Visual Reference Guides: Classical Music”. General Editor John Burrows. The 2010 edition published by Metro Books by special arrangement with Dorling Kimberly Limited, London

Hope this helps!

Thank to you all. I’ll start with your advice.