This companion guide to the excellent DVD series by the same name presents so much new information about the great classical composers and the places where they lived that I thought it deserved its own post here on BFGB.
One of the first things you will notice about this book are the hundreds of beautiful and sometimes stunning photographs of Wendy McDougall. Her pics of indoor concert halls and palaces (like the Hermitage in St. Petersburg) are just as impressive as her panoramic pics, like those of the Norwegian fjords and the old city of Prague. I was especially taken by her photograph of the Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg, where you can see many of the ornate details of a Russian orthodox church, so different from the churches you see in Western Europe. Her many fine pictures go well with the HD images in the series and make this book an excellent choice for a coffee-table book.
The book also serves as an excellent source of travel information about these destinations. Every destination city has a “City at a Glance” section with many of the same features that you will find in hundreds of other travel guides, features like climate, top 5 tourist attractions, and popular shopping locations. But what makes it unique is its emphasis on classical music. It has a “Composers” section that lists the composers who lived and worked in that city (Vienna and St. Petersburg tie for the most composers who lived in their city, with 14 each). It also has a list of composer museums/ homes that you can visit in the city.
Most importantly for the traveler, though, is a list of annual musical events held in that city, with a brief description of each event, time of year it is held, and the event website where you can go to get more information. It’s too late if you want to attend the world famous Salzburg Festival, a tribute to the music of Mozart which is held in July and August of every year. But it’s not too early to plan to see Salzburg’s Mozart Week, held in January, when it can be cold and snowy in Salzburg.
One of my favorite features of the City at a Glance section is the “Top 2 Coffee Houses” feature. The Café Tomaselli is one of the top 2 in Salzburg, though be forewarned, Mozart often went there and complained on more than one occasion about the quality of the coffee. But the authors insist that the quality of the coffee has improved considerably since then, and the café is now one of the best in Salzburg. Drinking coffee and hanging out in coffee shops was a popular pastime, as many composers besides Mozart frequented them. Johann Sebastian Bach liked his daily cup of joe so much that he composed one of his very few secular cantatas in praise of the beverage and, not surprisingly, called it the “Coffee Cantata.” It is one of my all time favorite choral pieces (think of it as Bach in a good mood) and it is definitely worth seeking out.
The book also has a useful “Composer at a Glance” feature that highlights the lives of 16 composers mentioned in the DVD series. It includes basic biographical information and mentions some of their greatest musical works. It highlights some of the challenges they had to face in their lives; many of them, like Mozart and Vivaldi, had extreme financial challenges; others, like Grieg, Schubert, and Beethoven, had to cope with severe health problems.
The book, written by Matt Wills, one of the co-hosts of the DVD series, serves as an excellent introduction to the world of classical music. Its combination of high-quality photographs with highly relevant information about these classical destinations and composers make it a very useful resource to those interested in classical music, and it is an excellent companion guide to the Classical Destinations DVD series.
If you want to hear some of the music mentioned in the book and DVD, you should listen to the companion Classical Destinations album, a 2-CD set of 24 pieces of music with over 2 ½ hours of music. It includes the wonderful Classical Destinations theme tune by Terracini played by the incredibly talented violinist and series co-host, Niki Vasilakis. The music of 17 of the great classical composers is arranged by region and includes many gems of the classical repertoire, including Mozart’s beautiful “Ave verum corpus,” the Largo movement from Dvorak’s “New World” symphony, and a rousing rendition of Sibelius’ Finlandia.
Check the WRL catalog for Classical Destinations: An Armchair Guide to Classical Music.