Long time readers of my blog will know that I am quite the fan of Stephen Fry, and have read all of his fiction books, as well as having referenced his book on writing poetry through my several On Poetry posts. Although not as well known as his other books, Stephen Fry’s Incomplete & Utter History of Classical Music is both highly entertaining and enlightening, and I figured it was worth a blog post of its own.
Starting off life as a radio project on a classical station, this book follows the path of classical music in a chronological order, from the ancient Egyptians and Sumerians, right through to the way classical music still permeates modern society, particularly through the likes of film soundtracks and other similar avenues. Fry establishes the differences between the different phases of music, from Baroque to Romantic and so on, and spends considerable time on many of his favourite composers.
What really grabs me about this book, though, as always, is Fry’s remarkable way with words. Instead of being pretentious and snobby, as would be so easy with such a topic, the tone is conversational, light and bubbly, with much of Fry’s trademark wit and humour shining through at every turn. The humour is prevalent in some of the things he says seemingly out of nowhere – “Mozart is now seven, and no doubt about to retire already…you see, Mozart years are rather like the inverse of dog years” – but also in a visual sense, such as when discussing Beethoven’s Symphony No 5 and writing in giant letters “DE DE DE DERRR, DE DE DE DERRR”. And yet, what may appear as silliness often has purpose behind it too, so you sit there nodding your head in approval, soaking up like a sponge everything that Fry discusses.
If you want to learn more about classical music, and many of the great classical composers, all while being entertaining and having a good laugh along the way, this is the book for you. I barely knew a thing about classical music, but I did thoroughly enjoy this.
Have you read this book before? Do you know of any other good books about classical music?