Ten Masterpieces of Music

Liveright. Oct. 2021. 336p. ISBN 9781631495182. $29.95. MUSIC
Sachs (Curtis Inst. of Music, Philadelphia; Toscanini: Musician of Conscience) takes readers on a breezy, informative tour of classical music from the 18th–20th centuries. Sachs chose 10 masterpieces to be the book’s guideposts, one each by Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Berlioz, Verdi, Brahms, Sibelius, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky. Sachs admits that he chose these works somewhat arbitrarily; why pick, for example, Mozart’s 17th piano concerto when numbers 18 through 27 are just as great? The book presents a variety of genres—concerto, symphony, piano sonata, piano trio, string quintet and quartet, song cycle, opera—as well as a wide geographic distribution of composers across Europe. Sachs considers each selection in the contexts of the composer’s life and the larger pantheon of musical greats. He provides abundant cultural and historical background and significant biographical detail.
VERDICT Sachs’s lively prose will draw readers in; were it not for his considerable technical discussion of the masterpieces, this book would be a first-rate choice for general readers. Heartily recommended to every serious lover of classical music.
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