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The Lives & Times of the Great Composers
The entertaining book by Michael Steen
Article added on September 7, 2006
  
Anybody interested in an overview on the biographies of most of the leading composers of classical music should have a closer look at this entertaining book by Michael Steen: The Lives & Times of The Great Composers. In addition to lively pictures of the most famous composers, Michael Steen introduces the reader to the different historical periods and places in which the artists were active.

In the context of the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, the reader gets a three-page crash course in the anti-Semitic Dreyfus affair in France because Grieg intervened on the side of the Dreyfusard camp in the ugly affair and, therefore, after a Paris concert, the composer had to be escorted back to his hotel by a police guard.

Michael Steen brings to life the biographies of over forty composers in portraits ranging from a handful to up to almost forty pages (for Mozart; sheet music by Mozart). The articles cover over 300 years of musical history, from Händel (1685-1759) to 20th century icons such as Shostakovich (1906-1975) and Britten (1913-1976).

The Lives & Times of The Great Composers neither offers a detailed analysis of the music of the different composers nor is it the result of substantial primary research. Michael Steen's book is based on the vast existing literature. He condenses his deep knowledge into concise, but never dry portraits that do not exclude juicy details and gossip.

Michael Steen informs readers about the fact that Schubert, Scriabin, Mozart, Mahler and Ravel were tiny, that Scriabin seduced a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl, that Janacek and Bartók married pupils who were almost "under age" under current British definitions, that Wagner realized that it was time to move on when the businessman bankrolling him in Zurich was about to discover that the composer was having an affair with his wife, that Beethoven was obsessed with his laundry, and that Tchaikovsky had a taste for boys, which makes him a pedophile.

The biographies of many of the great composers are tragedies to the point that if Hollywood had invented them, critics would laugh at them as unbelievable. In addition, only a few composers were happily married and got substantial support from their women. One wonders if family tragedies and viragos at home enhance your compositional skills.

Even if you are not very interested in classical music, Steen's book will still offer an entertaining and at the same time enlightening read.

At the end of the book is a useful list of "Sources and Further Reading", compiled by Michael Steen. The bibliography lists the works on which the author was "almost wholly reliant upon".

Michael Steen: The Lives & Times of the Great Composers. Icon Books, November 2005, 984 p. Order the book from Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com or Amazon.de.


Michael Steen: The Lives & Times of the Great Composers. Icon Books, November 2005, 984 p. Order the book from Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com or Amazon.de.







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