Secret Lives of Great Composers: What Your Teachers Never Told You about the World’s Musical Masters

Secret Lives of Great Composers: What Your Teachers Never Told You About the World's Musical Masters
Published: 8/1/2009
True tales of murder, riots, heartbreak, and great music. With outrageous anecdotes about everyone from Gioachino Rossini (draft-dodging womanizer) to Johann Sebastian Bach (jailbird) to Richard Wagner (alleged cross-dresser), Secret Lives of Great Composers recounts the seamy, steamy, and gritty history behind the great masters of international music. You’ll learn that Edward Elgar dabbled with explosives; that John Cage was obsessed with fungus; that Berlioz plotted murder; and that Giacomo Puccini stole his church’s organ…

Although this book doesn’t quite live up to its promise of “outrageous anecdotes”, it’s really quite entertaining and I certainly learned a lot about many of the world’s favorite composers. The book includes stories about everyone’s favorites: Vivaldi, Handel, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Rossini, Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Wagner, Verdi, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Elgar, Puccini, Mahler, Debussy, Strauss, Rachmaninoff, Schoenberg, Ives, Ravel, Stravinsky, Gershwin, Copland, Shostakovich, Barber, Cage, Bernstein and Glass, all in convenient chronological order.

I was aware of some of the stories beforehand, but there’s still incredibly interesting stuff in there. My favorite strange stories were about Berlioz (clearly a certifiable nutcase) and Puccini (clearly a full-blown criminal in his youth). The fungus story about Cage and Elgar’s explosive back-yard shed were also very interesting.

The illustrations are beautiful (and unusual) – you might want to read this book on a colour device, as opposed to the black-and-white Kindle that I read the first half on. I actually switched to an iPad half-way through so that I could properly enjoy the illustrations.

Read: June 2018
Recommended: Definitely!
Buy Secret Lives of Great Composers here

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