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The NPR ® Listener's Encyclopedia of Classical Music
From a cappella to Zukerman, THE NPR LISTENER'S ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CLASSICAL MUSIC is the music lover's indispensable guide, covering terms, theory, history, works, composers, venues, and performers. Written by Ted Libbey, one of America's most highly regarded music critics and commentators, it is a complete education, featuring 1,500 entries and 2,000 recommended recordings. Plus in a partnership with Naxos, the world's largest classical music label, the book comes with a dedicated web site where listeners can hear 525 selections amounting to over 75 hours of music.

Please enjoy this sampler. A selection of six excerpts from the book with six examples of recorded music, it demonstrates how book and Web site are integrated to offer a unique experience in music appreciation. Take number one—barcarolle—as an example. First read about its swaying 6/8 meter and origins in the music of Venetian gondoliers; then click on the link* and listen to it being performed in Offenbach's Les Comtes d'Hoffman.

Happy listening!

*Please note that this sampler combines text and links together. The actual web site contains links only and requires user registration.

barcarolle (from It. barcarola)   CLICK TO LISTEN
A piece in lilting 6/8 meter in the style of the songs of Venetian gondoliers...
A typical feature of the melody is a gentle, rocking rhythm suggestive of the side-to-side swaying of a boat. Mendelssohn included several barcarolles in his Songs Without Words for piano, and Fauré wrote a series of 13, also for piano, between 1885 and 1916. The most famous example of the genre is the barcarolle that opens Act IV of Offenbach's Les contes d'Hoffmann, set in a palace overlooking the Grand Canal.
8.550088 track 11
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Beethoven, Ludwig van   CLICK TO LISTEN
(b. Bonn, December 17, 1770; d. Vienna, March 26, 1827)
GERMAN-BORN COMPOSER AND PIANIST, the most important and influential musician in history...
By 1817, even though he was almost totally deaf and his physical health was clearly in decline, Beethoven began to recover his spiritual equilibrium and with it the urge to compose. He set himself a new goal: the creation of a body of monumentally ambitious works equal to those of Bach and Handel in their scale and contrapuntal intricacy. Between 1818 and 1826 from a man who was virtually unable to communicate, who needed to carry around conversation books so that other people could "talk" to him there poured forth a series of astonishing, visionary compositions, works whose audacity and complexity determined the course of musical thought for the remainder of the century.

In these works, unfettered by preconceptions regarding structure or content, Beethoven began to treat form in a schematic way; the number of movements in his late sonatas and string quartets varies markedly, as does their length. Fugal procedure acquires a new importance, and the inner workings of the music at times become more important than the outward effect. In the outstanding works of this period, particularly the Ninth Symphony (1824) the frame of reference is elevated from the individual to the universal, from the subjective to the metaphysical. Paradoxically, these would be the most "personal" scores Beethoven ever composed. The message of the Ninth Symphony is clear: having believed all his life in the ideals of the French Revolution, and having seen them undone by the Congress of Vienna, he rose a final time to their defense. Here is Beethoven at this most revolutionary, transforming the symphony, for the first time in its history, into an act of moral philosophy and personal confession. By choosing Schiller's ode "To Joy" as the text, sung by chorus and soloists in its final movement, he came as close as words would allow to summarizing his own spiritual credo.
8.553478 track 4
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Bernstein, Leonard   CLICK TO LISTEN
(b. Lawrence, Mass. August 25, 1918; d. New York, October 14, 1990)
AMERICAN CONDUCTOR, COMPOSER, PIANIST, WRITER, TEACHER, ACTIVIST, AND INTELLECTUAL ICON. If at times his talent was stretched thin by the demands of several careers, he was still the most important American musician of his generation and one of the great maestros of the 20th century...
The decade 1948-57 saw the completion of some of Bernstein's most important scores, including the musical West Side Story (1957 in collaboration with Robbins and the young Stephen Sondheim). In these scores, Bernstein's energetic idiom reached its maturity, serious but hip, full of jazzy animation, and with a distinctly American melodic accent derived from popular music. Several of these pieces touch on the joys and sorrows of the national experience, notably West Side Story and the opera Trouble in Tahiti (1951), which, notwithstanding its title, has nothing to do with the South Pacific and everything to do with the uniquely American malaise of life in the suburbs. For the joy, there's hardly anything that compares with West Side Story's rollicking "America," a boys-versus-girls free-for-all in which the constantly shifting rhythmic accent is a metaphor for the cultural differences that drive the entire score.
8.559126 track 9
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double bass   CLICK TO LISTEN
The double bass appeared on the scene around the beginning of the 16th century, finding use both as a continuo instrument and as the bass "voice" in consorts of viols...
From there it made its way into the orchestra, earning a place in the standard string complement by the beginning of the 18th century. The double bass section of a modern symphony orchestra usually consists of eight, sometimes nine or ten, instruments. Alone or, more frequently, in combination with the cellos and various low wind and brass instruments, the bass section's role is to provide the harmonic foundation of the orchestral sonority.

Though it may be thought of as an elephantine instrument, the double bass has surprising agility, a fact many knowledgeable composers have taken advantage of. A remarkable example comes in the opening pages of Richard Strauss's Ein Heldenleben (beginning at bar 76), where the basses, doubling the cellos and playing ff and fff, get to sing the hero's theme as it vaults from low G's and A's to high C's. For 27 swashbuckling measures the section plays without a rest.
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pizzicato (It., "pinched")   CLICK TO LISTEN
Instruction in music for bowed string instruments indicating that the player is to sound a note, chord, or passage by plucking the appropriate string(s) with his finger(s), rather than by using the bow...
In most cases a player will pluck the string using the fleshy part at the tip of the index or middle finger in order to produce a pleasantly full and rounded tone. For a "snap" pizzicato (sometimes called a "Bartók" pizzicato), the string is plucked more forcefully, so that it rebounds against the fingerboard. Paganini was among the first composers to call for left-hand pizzicato, a virtuoso technique that enables a performer to play a note or group of notes pizzicato (usually on an open string) either simultaneously or in alternation with bowed notes.

Pizzicato accompaniments are not uncommon in Baroque vocal music, but the use of pizzicato as a standard element of orchestral writing did not occur until the Classical period. Notable effects in the orchestral literature include the third movement of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4, where all the strings play exclusively pizzicato.
8.555714 track 4
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Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun)   CLICK TO LISTEN
ORCHESTRAL WORK BY CLAUDE DEBUSSY composed in 1894, inspired by a poem by Stéphane Mallarmé. The quintessential work of musical impressionism, it is also one of the seminal works of modernism, in which the elements of harmony, meter, rhythm, and timbre are treated in an astonishingly advanced and innovative manner...
Most apparent to the ear is the way Debussy paints a sonic canvas with fragments of motive and color. But the way the composer frames the canvas is equally remarkable. Calling for a slow tempo (Très modéré), and utilizing a metric scheme that is "stretched out" (mainly 9/8 and 12/8 in the early pages), he introduces a host of rhythmic complications and irregularities whose purpose is to suppress a sense of regular pulse. The harmony is intentionally elusive, the direction of any given phrase or passage ambivalent, vague. The drowsy, suffocating warmth alluded to early in the poem is superbly rendered by Debussy in a languorous flute solo that unfolds against a dappled background of muted strings and feathery tremolos, made all the more effective by the absence of a clear pulse in the first pages of the score; the feeling of desire and passion barely suppressed at the climax of the poem is mirrored by the music's gradually intensifying lyricism; and the dreamy oblivion into which the Faun sinks at its end is evoked by the gradual fragmentation of overlapping melodies from earlier in the piece.
8.550262 track 1
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