Friday, September 2, 2011

Pages from the History of Classical Music

When I was growing up, my family didn't regularly listen to music.  If the stereo was on downstairs, Joan Baez or The Kingston Trio were usually playing.  Like many families, what dad wanted to listen to was what the whole family listened to in my house.  When I left that house, I listened to classical music once in a while, but not regularly.  Then, when I married my husband ten years ago, a Saturday morning tradition began.  Rather than listening to folk music or the blues, we turn on the classical music station for the morning.

My husband is an audiophile.  He has a keen ear and appreciates fine music.  Though I can sing, I do not have such an ear.  But, I have desired to appreciate classical music.  Over the years, I have found that it is calming music.  There are often such beautiful melodies in the songs.

Recently, I had the chance to begin reading The Gift of Music by Jane Stuart Smith and Betty Carlson.  These authors wrote a very easy to read book titled  Great Women Authors.  It is now out of print, but it is one my favorite books.  I was curious about this book because I had enjoyed their writing before.  I was surprised to discover that this book is written quite differently.

The Gift of Music includes a foreward by Francis Shaeffer, a prelude to the book, and biographies of 42 classical composers.  These biographies are less personal than the biographies in Great Women Authors.  In the book about women authors, Stuart and Carlson gave a personal sketch of the authors.  The reader felt like they got to know them.  This book about composers is much more about what they each did, how they interacted with other notable figures and developed a wholistic picture of classical music.  There are a few personal details about the composers, but the biographies paint a picture of the music these men wrote and its place in the world of classical music.

This quote at the beginning of the book made me pause,

"There are things in the Christian world that cause us to be sad.  One of these is that for many Christians classical music is a complete vacuum.  This robs individual Christians and their children of one of the very rich areas of joy in this life....the chief sadnes of knowing little about classical music consists in the loss the Christian experiences in one of the areas of the affirmation of life."  from the Foreward by Francis Schaeffer on page ix.

As I read several of the biographies, I realized how little I know about classical music!  I was amazed to learn how the composers mentored and influenced one another.  This book is a lot like a textbook.  It's what I'd call "thick" reading.  It's also worthwhile reading.

If you enjoy books like "Bonhoeffer" by Eric Metaxas or Eugene Peterson's books, you'll probably enjoy this one.  You may just pick it up and read a chapter at a time.  You may listen to a piece of classical music and wonder about the composer.  This is not a book that needs to be read through in order or in succession.  It can easily be picked up and set down.  Sometimes it's nice to have books like that.

If you, as a parent, deeply enjoy classical music and want to share more about the history of the men who have written the pieces your family listens to, this would be a great resource.  

Francis Schaeffer's statement struck a chord with me.  It is a blessing and joy to savor classical music.  It is also a joy that we have to cultivate in our minds and hearts by listening to and learning about classical music.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from the publisher, Crossway books.

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