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Art, Books & Authors, History & Biography

Composer Biographies

The four-note motif that features prominently throughout Ludwig van Beethoven’s famous 5th Symphony is said to represent “fate knocking at the door.” But, what was this fate that so haunted Beethoven that it inspired him to create one of the most dramatic works in musical history?

Sergei Rachmaninoff's beautiful 2nd Piano Concerto was dedicated to an important person in the composer's life. To whom was this piece dedicated and why? The answers may surprise you!

You can find the answers to these questions and learn a number of other fascinating facts and anecdotes surrounding the lives of the great composers by reading one of the many composer biographies in the Springfield-Greene County Library District’s collection.

Here are a few that you might find interesting:

 The True Life of Johann Sebastian Bach by Klaus Eidam; translated by Hoyt Rogers. An organist and Bach scholar presents a close examination of the life of J.S. Bach, primarily based on original sources. Throughout, he wryly challenges the myths which circulate about Bach's temperament, degree of originality, and critical reception.   



 Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was a composer of universal genius whose popularity, extraordinary even during his lifetime, has never ceased to grow and now encircles the globe. His most famous works are as beloved in Beijing as they are in Boston. A lifelong devotee, Edmund Morris, the author of three bestselling presidential biographies, brings the great composer to life as a man of astonishing complexity and overpowering intelligence—a gigantic, compulsively creative personality unable to tolerate constraints. But Beethoven's achievement rests in his immortal music, whose grandeur and beauty were conceived "on the other side of silence."Beethoven: The Universal Composer by Edmund Morris. Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was a composer of universal genius whose popularity, extraordinary even during his lifetime, has never ceased to grow and now encircles the globe. His most famous works are as beloved in Beijing as they are in Boston. A lifelong devotee, Edmund Morris, the author of three bestselling presidential biographies, brings the great composer to life as a man of astonishing complexity and overpowering intelligence - a gigantic, compulsively creative personality unable to tolerate constraints. 


 The Life of Berlioz by Peter Bloom. Berlioz was arguably the greatest French composer of the nineteenth century. Although the author of the Symphonie Fantastique was possessed of a fertile imagination and sometimes obsessed by love, the image of Berlioz as a misunderstood and mistreated genius obscures both the solidity of his work as a musical architect and the reality of his position as one sometimes favored by those in power. "The Life of Berlioz" situates the celebrated French musician in the vibrant and highly politicized musical culture in which he lived and worked as composer, conductor, concert manager, and writer.


 Brahms by Malcolm MacDonald. Johannes Brahms has often been regarded as a conservative composer, his music dismissed as old-fashioned compared with the work of such contemporaries as Liszt and Wagner. In a major reevaluation of his life and artistry, Malcolm MacDonald incorporates 25 years of new research to demonstrate convincingly that Brahms combined his understanding of Classical principles with a profound appreciation of Romantic emotions and ideals. Through his study of early music and folk song, Brahms forged links with his predecessors while applying their craft in the service of a new expressiveness.


 Chopin by Jim Samson. "Chopin" examines the life and work of composer Fryderyk Chopin, alternating chapters of biographical narrative with original commentary. Mr. Samson Investigates the influence on Chopin of family, teachers, and the eventful political and cultural climate of Warsaw in his youth.



 Debussy: The Quiet Revolutionary by Victor Lederer. Aimed at general readers, this book describes the music of Claude Debussy, including chapters on listening to his music, influences, and his life. Lederer discusses Debussy's orchestral pieces, piano works, his opera Pelléas et Mélisande, songs, and chamber works, with discussion of their origins, character, musical inspiration, and narrative descriptions of specific parts of the works. Includes a full-length CD of Debussy's masterworks. 


The life and Times of the Great Composers by Michael Steen. A grand and panoramic biograhical history of the giants of classical music, "The Lives and Times of the Great Composers" is a new, unique, and lovingly constructed modern reference - and a beguiling read which you will return to again and again. Interlinked yet self-contained, each chapter distills the life of one or more composers, set against the social, political, musical, and cultural background of the time.


 Mendelssohn: A Life in Music by R. Larry Todd. An extraordinary prodigy of Mozartean abilities, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy was a distinguished composer and conductor, a legendary pianist and organist, and an accomplished painter and classicist. Lionized in his lifetime, he is best remembered today for several staples of the concert hall and for such popular music as The Wedding March and Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,


 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: A Biography by Piero Melograni; translated by Lydia G. Cochrane. Piero Melograni here offers a wholly readable account of Mozart’s remarkable life and times. This masterful biography proceeds from the young Mozart’s earliest years as a Wunderkind -- the child prodigy who traveled with his family to perform concerts throughout Europe -- to his formative years in Vienna, where he fully absorbed the artistic and intellectual spirit of the Enlightenment, to his deathbed, his unfinished Requiem, and the mystery that still surrounds his burial.


 The Life of Musorgsky by Caryl Emerson. This is a brief biography of Russia's greatest musical dramatist, Modest Musorgsky (1839-1881), known the world over for his opera "Boris Godunov," for his innovative realistic art songs, and for his pianistic work Pictures at an Exhibition. Yet during his life Musorgsky had no institutional connections, no "degree," no family of his own, not even a permanent address. This book emphasizes the psychological and economic factors that contributed to the composer's remarkable autodidactic rise and tragic, premature end.


 Sergei Rachmaninov: An Essential Guide to his Life and Works by Julian Haylock. Outwardly the great Russian was an austere and reserved figure - "a six-and-a-half foot scowl" Stravinsky called him. It was only in later life that he revealed: "Composing is as essential a part of my being as breathing or eating." A mid-career change from composer to concert pianist in the wake of the Russain Revolution almost led to total creative silence, yet when the conditions were right, Rachmaninov poured out music of an unrivalled and scorching intensity.


 The Life of Schubert by Christopher H. Gibbs. Franz Schubert's tragically short life was lived in one of Europe's most richly musical cities: a Vienna that worshipped Beethoven and where Rossini and Paganini drew crowds. Christopher Gibbs considers how and what Schubert composed, taking a fresh look at this misunderstood composer, particularly the unfolding of his professional career, his relationship to Beethoven, the growth of his reputation and public image and his darker side of drinking, depression and sexual ambiguity. 


 Tchaikovsky by Roland John Wiley. A giant in the pantheon of 19th century composers, Tchaikovsky continues to enthrall audiences today. From the Nutcracker - arguably the most popular ballet currently on the boards - Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty, to Eugene Onegin and "Pique Dame," to the Symphony Pathetique and the always rousing, canon-blasting 1812 Overture - this prolific and beloved composer's works are perennial favorites. 



 The Life of Verdi by John Rosselli. Verdi's long life spanned Napoleonic rule and the age of broadcasting. In this new biography, John Rosselli considers a boldly innovative artist whose 28 operas still speak to us. He investigates Verdi's businesslike running of a landed estate as well as a highly successful career, and looks into his complex relationships with two women singers: his second wife Giuseppina Strepponi and his probable lover Teresa Stolz. At the same time Roselli reinterprets the operas with novel insights showing us why Verdi still fills theaters and rouses enthusiasm.


 Women Composers: The Lost Tradition Found by Diane Peacock Jezic. With newly recovered information about women composers as well as an updated listing of available scores and recordings, this edition brings together musical and biographical material about 25 composers from the 11th to the 20th centuries; discusses each composer in context and analyzes the conditions required for women to compose and for their works to survive. 


You can view the entire collection of composer biographies by using the following link: Composers.

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