The NPR Listener’s Encyclopedia of Classical Music:Ted Libbey
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The well-known classical music commentator from National Public Radio's “Performance Today,” Libbey (“The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection”) has written a listener's encyclopedia containing about 1,500 entries and 1,000 recommended recordings. Entries include biographies (both composers and performers), musical genres (sonata), musical terms (triad), musical instruments (piano), and selected musical works (Carnival of the Animals), as well as assorted other terms related to music (Carnegie Hall). Libbey's writing mirrors the clear, learned, yet always engaging style that he projects on the radio. The entry on Korngold is illustrative of Libbey's enthusiasm—the violin concerto is described as “one of the supreme masterpieces of the literature”—though the recommended recordings might have included more than one of the many extant recordings of Korngold's wonderful film scores. Several lesser-known composers who have been recorded fairly often (such as Viotti) do not rate a separate entry, though Viotti does appear in the entry on violin.
A treasure trove of over 500 music examples will be available on the web from Naxos via a login that allows for multiple accounts. Unlike Julius H. Jacobson's “The Classical Music Experience” (SourceBooks MediaFusion, 2003), which was published with two CDs containing about 120 usually abbreviated tracks, purchase of Libbey's book allows the listener many hours of very full samples, e.g., the complete Beethoven Waldstein Sonata, Vaughn Williams's complete The Lark Ascending, and the full 20 minutes of Bruckner's opening movement of the Seventh Symphony—a perfect way to sample great music. Bottom line, this is an excellent source forthe biography, lore, and terminology of classical music, nicely enhanced by the many photographs and illustrations. As a general introduction to classical music (and especially as an encyclopedia for listeners), this book is superior to recent ventures, such as Jacobson's work or Fred Plotkin's “Classical Music 101” (Hyperion, 2002). Those interested purely in recordings will also want one of the general review compendiums of classical recorded music, e.g., "The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs & DVDs,“ Backbeat's ”Classical Music: The Listener's Companion,“ or ”The Rough Guide to Classical Music,“ Libbey's book is both a listener's encyclopedia and a guide to recordings, but it does not replace such standards as Oxford's ”Grove Music Online" or Gale/Schirmer's “Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians,” Recommended for all libraries.—Library Journal, Bruce R. Schueneman, Texas A&M Univ. Lib., Kingsville