A Stephen Fry book on classical music? Why yes!

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?

14 thoughts on “A Stephen Fry book on classical music? Why yes!

  1. Yes indeed I am also a very devoted fan of Mr Fry and love his poetry book “The Ode less travelled” this sort of book is just what is needed to cut through the snobbery.

  2. Hi,
    I’ve just read Moab is My Washpot by Stephen Fry a few weeks back and absolutely loved his writng style. It is good to know that you recommended this book. I will certainly try this sometime in the future.
    Keep bloggin about other books of Fry if you read them.

    • Ohh okay! I think a lot of people are unaware of his books actually. He has 4 fiction books but about 6 non-fiction books, plus two books as his alter ego Mrs Stephen Fry (which are completely ridiculous and hilarious). Frankly I’d recommend the whole lot of it – fascinating reading! 🙂 Though my favourite book of his is his novel Making History, I really loved that one.

  3. It would be nice to get my hands on this book. It sounds very entertaining as well as informative. I’ve always wanted to learn a little more about classical music but didn’t want to wade through the mire of stuffy old music books. 🙂

    • Exactly – that’s what drew me to this book, as it looked like a much more fun way to explore what could have been a deadly boring subject matter (and I knew how he brought poetry to life in his poetry book, so…) 🙂

  4. Actually, Stephen Fry didn’t write this book exactly – it was ghostwritten for him by his radio program co-host. To be honest most of the jokes aren’t even funny and usually aren’t relevant… They really detract from the material and are quite annoying. The real Stephen Fry writes much better than this – I highly recommend his first autobiography, for instance

    • Mmm, I agree, both of his memoirs are really good. And I love all four of his novels – I wish he’d write another one, as it’s been over a decade. I suppose his “Mrs Stephen Fry” books are a kind of fiction now, but I’d love him to write a proper novel again.

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