THE CLASSICAL MUSIC EXPERIENCE: Hear and Discover the Sounds and Stories of Forty-two Great Composers

Julius H. Jacobson, Author , narrated by Kevin Kline. Sourcebooks $39.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-57071-950-9

Jacobson, a vascular surgeon who has been a fan of classical music since his teens, is concerned that interest in this music is waning, so he has written a book to introduce the uninitiated to the basic repertoire of "those compositions most often heard at orchestral or chamber music concerts." Uninhibited by his lack of training in performance or music history, he plunges into accounts of 42 major composers, from Palestrina to Leonard Bernstein, chatting about their lives, their musical styles and their best-known compositions. Interspersed are a few pertinent definitions of musical terms, as well as digressions into other topics, such as the structure of the ear, an operation he performed on the artery of a conductor and trips he made to Slovakia (prompted by his discussion of Smetana). Although his sketches of the music are short and overly simple, he often succeeds in capturing the essence of a composer's style—the "physical energy" and "dance-like forward motion" of Bach's Third Brandenburg Concerto; the "fine themes, interesting rhythms, rich orchestral sonorities" in Bruckner's symphonies; and the "dark coloring, yet brilliant sound" of Tchaikovsky's orchestration. Unfortunately, his decision not to include opera (except for Wagner) means that a number of popular composers, like Verdi, Rossini and Donizetti, are omitted. The book comes with two CDs containing fragments of some of the works covered. These snippets, with short introductions by actor Kevin Kline, are too brief to provide any real insight into the music (and Kline's delivery is surprisingly dry and faux academic). More helpful are the suggestions Jacobson makes for recordings to buy. The book is elementary and anecdotal, and the doctor's enthusiasm is infectious. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 10/07/2002
Release date: 11/01/2002
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