The New York Times Essential Library: Classical Music A Critic's Guide to the 100 Most Important Recordings

Allan Kozinn

Times Books



Trade Paperback

384 Pages



Request Desk Copy Request Exam Copy

For classical music lovers, there is nothing more beguiling and exciting than the range of technique and emotion that can capture or transform the great works in the hands of a conductor and musicians. But with hundreds of recordings released ever year—and with nearly as many classic performances from the past rejoining the active catalog—discovering the jewels is a challenge, for newcomers as well as for connoisseurs.

In one hundred original essays, New York Times classical music critic Allan Kozinn offers the ultimate collector's guide, a rich chronicle of the composers and performers who stir our souls. Kozinn takes you through the core repertory of Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky, from the medieval meditations of Machaut, through the picturesque concertos of Vivaldi, Schubert's otherworldly lieder, the folk-inspired nobility of Mussorgsky, Dvorák, and Sibelius, and the blossoming of American sounds and the rise of minimalism. He considers the legacy of performers and conductors, including the early-music innovations of Sequentia, the idiosyncracies of Glenn Gould, and the far-reaching baton of Leonard Bernstein. He showers you with telling details, such as the antiaircraft explosions captured in harpsichordist Wanda Landowska's 1940 Paris recordings of Scarlatti sonatas, and explores the personal and historical context of every work. Kozinn's essays on the most dazzling classical recordings available provide both practical guidance for building a library and deep insight into the transcendent power of classical music.


Praise for The New York Times Essential Library: Classical Music

"In introducing this volume of the New York Times Essential Library, Kozinn notes the quixotic nature of choosing the top 100 classical music recordings. Unlike jazz or rock, classical music is an interpretive and re-creational art. There is only one Kind of Blue; other recordings of its exact program don't diminish its definitiveness, for jazz is essentially individualistic and improvisatory. But, to cite Kozinn's example, the 'definitive' recording of Bach's sonatas and partitas for solo violin can be Nathan Milstein's for the 1970s, Gidon Kremer's for the '80s, and Christian Tetzlaff's now; and none ever displaces the others. Kozinn's strategy for dealing with the fact that very different interpretations of the same music are equally 'valid' is to opt generally for more recent recordings and to note often, within the context of appraising the pieces at hand and their composers, other fine versions of particular scores. Historically, Kozinn's selections span from the twelfth-century sacred songs of Hildegard of Bingen to masterpieces by a dozen living composers. An excellent book of its kind."—Booklist

"It's always a tricky task to pick a list with as sweeping a title as this, but Kozinn, a music critic for the New York Times, has done a sterling job. Not only does he write concisely and informatively about the works in hand, offering an excellent potted history of the composer and his composition, but Kozinn also sets forth sound reasons why he has chosen the recording he has—and in most cases he offers recommended alternatives, too. His list contains most of the expected big guns in classical masterpieces, but with an unusually extended list of contemporary works as well—25% of the pieces he cites were written in the 20th century: Britten and Glass and Reich, of course, but also such lesser-known figures as Milton Babbitt and Gregorio Paniagua. In performance, he has soft spots for the work of Leonard Bernstein and George Szell, but also for Pierre Boulez as a conductor, and is a great admirer of Columbia's composer-as-conductor series featuring Stravinsky and Copland. Best of all—and to keep the arguments flowing—he offers at the end a list of another 100 discs almost as essential—and hints at many more. It's a treasure trove for record collectors—though they should be aware that Kozinn's choices do not include opera."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

The New York Times Essential Library: Classical Music

O Jerusalem
SEQUENTIA (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 05472-77353-2)
Includes the title work as well as Quia felix puerita--Magnificat,...

Read the full excerpt


  • Allan Kozinn

  • Allan Kozinn is a classical music critic for The New York Times. Before joining the staff of the Times in 1991, he was a contributing editor for the classical music magazines High Fidelity, Opus, and Keynote, and he was the music critic for The New York Observer. He lives in New York City.