A Taste for the Classics
By Patrick Kavanaugh
6.1 (Spring 1995) : 105-105
A companion volume to the author's The Spiritual Lives of Great Composers, this work makes an appeal through a hands-on approach to both inexperienced and seasoned listeners of classical music. Kavanaugh wants to engage his readers in such music through listening programs, repertoire lists, and biographical insights, such as how composers influenced one another toward faith and artistry.
Chapter one is a backdrop for the remaining chapters, which deal with orchestra music, choral music, the concerto, opera, chamber music, song, and solo literature, respectively. The author sets forth a "simple approach" stressing "no expertise needed" (3). His basic framework provides an overview of musical periods and their characteristic features, and then distinguishes the primary categories of the music composed.
The book promises the following "essentials for understanding and appreciating classical music":
the basic types of classical works, such as orchestra and choral music, opera, chamber music and song.
the instruments that play and the voices that sing these works, and how they work together to create a magnificent sound.
the greatest classical composers and their unique contributions to the world of music.
some of the most popular and inspired works that have stood the test of time.
enough of the basics of music theory to give better appreciation of what you hear.
some fascinating facts and anecdotes from music history, with a basic framework for understanding the progression of musical periods.
the most common musical terms one is likely to encounter.
The last two chapters chart a course for the reader—"Where Do We Go from Here?" and "A Lifetime of Listening—Your First Thousand Pieces." A list of the major composers followed by a selection of further reading about them follows. An extensive glossary serves for ready reference when the reader gets bogged down in "music-ese."
Kavanaugh's books will provide the entre to classical music for those who have wanted to understand and enjoy it, but have always found excuses not to. Both books are enjoyable reading without the sacrifice of content essential to informed engagement in classical music.