The Essential Canon of Classical Music

David Dubal

North Point Press



Trade Paperback

800 Pages



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Music, according to Aaron Copland, can thrive only if there are "gifted listeners." But today's listeners must choose between classical and rock, opera and rap, and the choices can seem overwhelming at times. In The Essential Canon of Classical Music, David Dubal comes to the aid of the struggling listener and provides a cultural-literacy handbook for classical music. Dubal identifies the two hundred forty composers whose works are most important to an understanding of classical music and offers a chronological guide to their music—singling out the sixty most significant with comprehensive essays covering all aspects of their lives and works. Dubal has searched beyond the traditional canon to introduce readers to little-known works by some of the most revered names in classical music—Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Haydn—as well as to the major works of lesser-known composers. In a spirited and opinionated voice, he seeks to rid us of the notion of "masterpieces" and instead to foster a new generation of master listeners. The result is an uncommon collection of the wonders classical music has to offer for the novice and experienced listener alike.


Praise for The Essential Canon of Classical Music

"Packed full of useful information that every musician and music lover needs almost daily."—Richard Cormier, The Tampa Tribune

"David Dubal's The Essential Canon of Classical Music is an engaging and informative listener's companion. It will help to introduce the beauty and extraordinary legacy of the classical music repertoire from all historic periods to a wide audience."—Joseph W. Polisi, President of the Julliard School

"The Essential Canon of Classical Music is a terrific book. David Dubal's spirited essays are wonderful introductions to the composers, and his vivid descriptions of the music and recommendations of recordings are invaluable. This book has something for everyone, from the beginner to the sophisticated listener. It has a permanent resting place on my CD player."—Tony Randall

"No one writes more cogently on music than David Dubal. I learned a lot. Dubal instructs even as he entertains. And he cares deeply."—Ned Rorem

"David Dubal's new book is more than a comprehensive survey. He reminds us once again, as he does in all his books, that the culture of classical music must be preserved as an integral part of our modern lives. Just when we feel this 800-year-old legacy is fast disappearing, David Dubal comes up with a wake-up call that we can't ignore."—Peter Rosen, Award-winning Producer and Director

"For the serious music lover, The Essential Canon of Classical Music tells it all in the most elegant prose."—Margaret Mercer, Program Director, WQXR

"An invaluable reference that will delight and inform all with a curiosity about or a passion for classical music. With wit and concision, David Dubal brings a sensibility to the study of classical music that both enlightens and entertains."—Peter B. Goodrich, Vice President, Worldwide Concert and Artist Activities, Steinway & Sons

"I am often asked by music lovers, experienced and inexperienced alike, to recommend a single volume they might use in getting to know music better. In The Essential Canon of Classical Music, David Dubal has met this need brilliantly. Readers will grow to rely on his splendid array of facts about composers, their lives and work, together with recommended recordings."—Garrick Ohlsson

"What is especially wonderful about this informative and exhaustive guide is the encyclopedic knowledge of recordings that Mr. Dubal brings to the task. His recommendations are a fascinating mix of the familiar and the very unusual, but always exciting, performances that we all treasure."—Emanuel Ax

"This book may never gather shelf dust, destined as it is to become a regular commuter from library to stereo."—Ed Shanaphy, Piano Today

"A professor of piano literature at Julliard and a former, longtime classical music programmer for WNCN in New York, Dubal brings strong credentials to the task . . . The scope and attention to detail are very impressive."—Larry Lipkis, Moravian College, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Booklist

"The book is probably the most useful of its kind now available."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

The Essential Canon of Classical Music
PART ONETHE MEDIEVAL, RENAISSANCE, AND ELIZABETHAN AGESWe can only speculate about the origins of music, but its seemingly magical qualities must have been apparent early in human prehistory. Primitive music of some sort probably preceded speech by thousands of years. Those with unusual vocal abilities may have used their power in rituals or to convey messages over a distance. These ancient singers, like their brothers the cave painters, may even have been privileged members of the clan. But it was a long time before people started making vocal utterances
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  • David Dubal

  • David Dubal is an acclaimed pianist and a professor at the Julliard School. He has won several awards, including the Peabody Award and an Emmy for the documentary The Golden Age of the Piano. The former classical music program director at WNCN, Dubal is currently a broadcaster on WQXR. He is also the author of many books.