Classical Music 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Classical Music by Fred Plotkin

As with Plotkin’s Opera 101, this book is an invaluable insight into this subject matter. As with Opera 101, it’s clear from the beginning that Plotkin loves classical music, and his objective is to help you to love it too. His book is designed as a launch pad for discovery, not a textbook of facts. Plotkin is an accredited and acknowledged expert in the field, and while it’s expected for his audience to keep up with him, he does his best to bring his expertise to a level where general audiences can do just that. Again, as with Opera 101, the author assumes that the audience has had some exposure to the music and wants to catapult beyond the beginner level to a realm of true appreciation. This book covers history, anecdotal tales, musical theory, analysis, and even an overview of the various instruments in the orchestra. For the true novice, there is a section that outlines the expectations of attending a concert performance.

Many other reviews I’ve seen lamented that the music itself wasn’t a part of this audiobook, and while that’s a hindrance, such a thing would likely have been a licensing nightmare as many of the performances are not in the public domain. He does outline, however, exactly which performances he’s referencing, and suggests that if you can’t find them at a library (or perhaps online these days), then other recordings will suffice in most cases.

If there is a true negative to be found in this audiobook, it’s the author’s own performance, and that’s why I offer it 3 stars instead of 4. He reads as though he’s not reading his own work, making the pacing a bit weird at times, and the recording is semi-professional at best. What I mean by that is that every time he takes a breath or smacks his lips, you hear it. There’s no post-production to cover up that distraction. When a man’s life revolves around music, he should know the value of sound and performance. Even so, the breadth of his knowledge that’s offered here more than makes up for it in my humble opinion, and he does it without talking down to you. If you engage the material, there’s no reason this book shouldn’t open up a new level of appreciation.

3 stars

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