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Many music lovers are also readers and blending the two is usually very satisfying. Here is a selection of favourite/recommended books from our PSO players. Many are available as Kindle eBooks – or free on the popular Library app – Libby. Download it at www.libbyapp.com.


The Cello Suites – Eric Siblin                 Allen & Unwin 2009

Part biography, part music history, and part literary mystery, this book follows three strands of an evolving story. The first is a dramatic narrative featuring JS Bach and a missing manuscript from the 18th century; the second is a key discovery by Pablo Casals in Spain and his rise to fame; and the third is Siblin’s own discovery of, and infatuation with, the suites in the 21st century.

Violin Dreams – Arnold Steinhardt                     First Mariner Books 2008

With more than 40 years as an international soloist and first violinist of the Guarneri String Quartet, Steinhardt offers a fascinating insight into his lifelong obsession with the violin. He describes Bach’s Chaconne as the Holy Grail for the solo violin, and explores the history and mysteries of the renowned Italian violinmakers.

Maestros, Masterpieces & Madness – Norman Lebrecht                      Penguin Books 2008

Subtitled the ‘Secret Life and Shameful Death of the Classical Record Industry’, this book is a sparkling exposé of the industry. Lebrecht (a music critic) charts its rise since the great Caruso’s first gramophone bestseller of 1902 and predicts the industry’s imminent doom in the face of schmaltzy crossover albums and new technology.

The Ninth – Beethoven & the World in 1824 – Harvey Sachs                 Random House 2010

An absorbing and multidimensional look at the premiere of Beethoven’s towering Ninth Symphony, one of the most influential and unprecedented compositions in the history of music. Sachs sets the work in its historical context to explain how the Ninth was emblematic of its time.

Sacred and Profane – David Weiss                     Coronet Books 1970

Weiss captures the personality of Mozart and the sounds and sights of the world in which he moved. Mozart’s nettly relationship with his father, the intrigues of rival musicians, the pomp and glory of the aristocratic courts in Europe, the vignettes of other great personages such as Haydn, Beethoven, Louis XV of France and George III of England – all are covered here.

Mozart in the Jungle – Blair Tindall                      First Grove Press 2005

Tindall has played with some of the biggest names in classical music and in this book exposes the scandalous rock-and-roll lifestyles of the musicians and conductors – a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on backstage in the Broadway orchestra pit – sex, drugs and classical music.

Music As Alchemy – Tom Service                        Faber & Faber 2012

From inside the rehearsal rooms of some of the most inspirational orchestral partnerships in the world, Service reveals how the catalysts of place, time and personal history are blended into life-changing performances. Readers come to realise that the conductor should be more like a teacher everyone wants to impress – rather than a dictator who must be obeyed.

Stradivari’s Genius – Toby Faber                          Random House 2006

Stradivari was perfectionist whose single-minded pursuit of excellence changed the world of music. He crafted more than a thousand stringed instruments – about 600 survive. Faber traces the rich, multilayered stories of six of these peerless creations – five violins and a cello – and the artist who brought them into being.

The Rest is Noise – Alex Ross                                 Picador 2007

In this sweeping narrative, Ross (music critic for The New Yorker) weaves together the events of the 20th century and its music – from Vienna before WW1 to Paris in the twenties, from Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia to downtown New York in the sixties and seventies, from Berlin to Beijing today.

Piano – James Barron                                 Times Books 2006

Like no other instrument, a grand piano melds the magic of engineering with great music. Steinway & Sons still crafts each of its pianos largely by hand, imbuing each with the promise and burden of its brand. Barron tells the story of the making of one Steinway, from raw lumber to finished instrument.

The Inextinguishable Symphony – Martin Goldsmith                              John Wiley & Sons 2000

As much a tribute to the power of music as it is a Holocaust memoir, this book tells the deeply affecting, true story of a love that survived the terrors of WWII.

Indivisible by Four – Arnold Steinhardt                            Farrar, Strauss & Giroux 1998

The Guarneri String Quartet is fabled for its longevity and high-spirited virtuosity. This is its story from the inside – a story filled with drama, humour, danger, compassion and, of course, glorious music. Steinhardt reveals the intensely difficult process by which – on the battlefield of daily three-hour rehearsals – four individualists master the demands of ensemble playing.

The Well-Tempered Cello – Miranda Wilson                                  Fairhaven Press 2022

The book revisits the masterpieces that form a soundtrack to a cellist’s life – Bach’s Six Cello Suites. Wilson was a child in New Zealand when she first began to learn the famous Prelude in G Major. After moving to the United States for a career as a cellist, music journalist and professor, she became obsessed with the goal of performing all six from memory in a marathon concert.

The Maestro Myth – Norman Lebrecht                             Citadel Press 1995

A study of musical ambition, achievement and power, this book is rich in historical and biographical texture. Lebrecht considers the clout and character of every famous conductor from Richard Strauss to Herbert von Karajan to Leonard Bernstein to Simon Rattle.

Written by Mrs Bach – Martin Jarvis                   HarperCollins 2011

Bach’s majestic Cello Suites are among the world's best-loved pieces of music – but which Bach wrote them? Using advanced techniques of forensic document examination, Australian musical sleuth Jarvis claims the suites were composed not by JS Bach by his much-loved second wife, Anna Magdalena.

Piano Notes – Charles Rosen                                Penguin Books 2004

World-renowned concert pianist Rosen draws on a lifetime’s wisdom to consider every aspect of the instrument; from the physical challenges of playing to tales of great musicians including Vladimir Horowitz’s recording tricks, Rachmaninov’s hands and why Arthur Rubenstein applied hairspray to the keys.

Play it Again – Alan Rusbridger                             Vintage Books 2014

In 2010 Rusbridger (editor of the Guardian newspaper) set himself an almost impossible task: to learn, in the space of a year, Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 – a piece that inspires dread in many professional pianists. All while the world continued to descend into chaos.

Cadence – Emma Ayres                            HarperCollins 2014

Billed as ‘Travels with Music’, Emma cycles from England to Hong Kong, accompanied by her violin. This is the backdrop to a journey through the keys and the circle of fifths – and the music that has inspired, shaped and provided refuge for Emma – Beethoven’s quartets, Mahler symphonies, Brahms Sonatas, Bach suites. It’s a book of questions too – how does the instrument you play reveal who you are as a person?

The Making of Music – James Naughtie                            John Murray 2008

A journey into the story of music. From plainsong to jazz, from glittering Renaissance courts to Italian opera houses, this is a passionate exploration of music’s power.

Rock Me Amadeus – Seb Hunter                          Penguin Books 2006

Hunter embarks on a haphazard journey across Europe that takes in hallucinating nuns, a Yoda-like mentor, angry eunuchs, frustrated minstrels, trying really hard not to vomit at the opera in Rome, an assault on the Kremlin and several run-ins with his mother. But will Beethoven roll over? Will Nigel Kennedy return his calls? A very funny read.

Music at the Limits – Edward Said                       Bloomsbury Publishing 2008

A collection of three decades of the author’s essays on music. Addressing the works of a wide variety of composers and performers, Said’s analyses music’s social and political contexts and provides rich and often surprising assessments. He reflects on the censorship of Wagner in Israel; the relationship between music and feminism; and the works of Beethoven, Bruckner, Rossini, Schumann, Stravinsky and others.

This is your Brain on Music – Daniel Levitin                   Atlantic Books 2007

A one-time record producer and neuroscientist, Levitin explores how the human brain perceives music, and how composers exploit our instinctive reaction to musical material to beguile and challenge us – he draws on examples from Bach, Beethoven and Mozart to Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis and Johnny Cash.