9 Nonfiction Books About Classical Music

by Melissa Ragsdale

The world of classical music is a diverse and passionate one. So naturally, with all its with brilliant compositions, outstanding performances, and crazy history, there's something for everyone when it comes to books about music. Music is life, and there is so much within it to be explored.

Music is one of the most powerful forces on the planet. It affects us in the deepest, most intimate ways. It draws people together. It raises spirits, and it conquers nations. Its complexities are endless, and yet, it can be accessed without any skills or requirements. It is endlessly fascinating.

Whether you're a classically trained musician or you just simply love to listen to it, these books will sweep you up into the many different facets of the music world. From zeroing in on some of the most famous composers, to exploring the intricacies of the listening experience, to nailing down the way music makes us feel, each of these reads provides a unique perspective on what classical music is. You'll find many of your favorite composers moonlighting as authors among this list, giving you an opportunity to get even closer to them. So, put on your favorite symphony and settle down for some excellent reading.

1. Secret Lives of Great Composers by Elizabeth Lunday

Let's face it: some of the world's most renowned composers were absolutely nuts. In this delightful read, Lunday tells you just how nuts they were. From Berlioz's murder plot to the time when Puccini stole his church's organ pipes to sell as scrap metal for cigarettes, this book is filled with true stories that are almost unbelievable.

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2. Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons by Igor Stravinsky

One of the world's most celebrated composers, Igor Stravinsky gives us his take on all things music in this must-read. From accounts of his personal experiences to in-depth explorations of some of the great classical composers, Stravinsky delivers knowledge and insight on every page.

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3. Listen to This by Alex Ross

Famous music reviewer Alex Ross dives into every form of music in this collection of essays. From Mozart to Led Zeppelin, Ross delivers wonderful explorations on the complexities of music in all its forms. Plus, if you're a twentieth century music fan, be sure to check out Ross's classic The Rest is Noise .

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4. Mozart in the Jungle by Blair Tindall

The inspiration for the hit television show Mozart in the Jungle, this memoir dives into all the sex, drugs, and scandal of the New York Philharmonic. A lively read for anyone who loves music, this book gives you the real scoop on what it's like to be a world-class musician.

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5. Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks

This fascinating book dives into the science of how music affects our brain. From rare disorders to every day phenomenons, Sacks explores how powerful music is and where it draws its power. Don't worry, this book is anything but stuffy, and you'll be hooked from page one.

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6. The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green

This classic is essential for any musician. Green dives into the inner psyche of the musician, all of the emotions running through your brain as you play. He explores how to conquer nervousness in performance and audition settings, and how to maximize your learning during your practice sessions. Philosophy meets technique in this book, and it will certainly improve how you play.

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7. The Joy of Music by Leonard Bernstein

One of the world's most beloved composers, Leonard Bernstein's exploration of music is a book every music-lover needs to read. Through a collection of "Imaginary Conversations," essays, and classic photographs, Bernstein goes in depth on a variety of subjects including classic composers, the role of the symphony in America, and his take on the art of composing.

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8. Words Without Music by Philip Glass

Whether you're a fan of Glass or not, this memoir will give you a fascinating new perspective on one of the world's greatest living composers. As he takes you behind the scenes of his life and musical journey, Glass's natural gift for storytelling will suck you in.

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9. What to Listen For In Music by Aaron Copland

If you want to become a better listener of classical music, this is the book for you. Renowned composer Aaron Copland unpacks how classical music works, from instrumentation to emotional payoff. He gets to why music feels so good to us, asking two basic questions: Are you hearing everything that is going on? Are you really being sensitive to it?

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Images: Baohm/Pixabay