Masters of Music Book Reviews

view titles

Lane Education Service, December 2008

On The Life and Times of Franz Liszt

One of the Masters of Music: The World's Greatest Composers series. The first of the five chapters shares a significant grabber event in the life of the composer. The remaining four chapters share the details of the composer's life and musical contributions. Each chapter ends with a single page FYI about some historical events that occurred during the composer's life. The book ends with a list of important works, a personal chronology, a timeline of related events, chapter notes, and a bibliography that includes relevant websites. There is also an index to help with research although reading the entire book is well within the capability of any middle school student.

On Life and Times of Duke Ellington

One of the Masters of Music: The World's Greatest Composers series. The first of the five chapters shares a significant grabber event in the life of the composer. The remaining four chapters share the details of the composer's life and musical contributions. Each chapter ends with a single page FYI about some historical events that occurred during the composer's life. The book ends with a list of important works, a personal chronology, a timeline of related events, chapter notes, and a bibliography that includes relevant websites. There is also an index to help with research although reading the entire book is well with the capability of any middle school student.

On Life and Times of Antonio Lucio Vivaldi

One of the Masters of Music: The Worlds Greatest Composers series. The first of the five chapters shares a significant grabber event in the life of the composer. The remaining four chapters share the details of the composer's life and musical contributions. Each chapter ends with a single page FYI about some historical events that occurred during the composer's life. The book ends with a list of important works, a personal chronology, a timeline of related events, chapter notes, and a bibliography that includes relevant websites. There is also an index to help with research although reading the entire book is well with the capability of any middle school student.

Multicultural Review, Summer 2005

On The Life and Times of Duke Ellington and The Life and Times of Scott Joplin

Part of an excellent series for elementary and middle school students, these volumes feature inspiring stories of two gifted musicians and composers. The biographies of Ellington and Joplin are well researched and conveyed with warmth.

Joplin, the son of a slave, had musical talent as a young boy and his mother recognized it. She made sure he took classical music lessons. Today his influences are heard in blues, rock, and in the jazz of Duke Ellington. But during Joplin's lifetime, fellow composers did not recognize him as important. A sidebar describes how he was rediscovered in the United States in the early seventies, 66 years after his death. The director of The Sting, a 1973 film set in Chicago in the 1930s, needed period music; its director discovered Joplin's ragtime music. The film's soundtrack became a top seller and even won an Oscar.

Three years before Joplin's death, Ellington, only 14 at the time, heard a young man just a year older than he was play ragtime on the piano. That was the beginning of his love affair with music, and it never ended. Ellington brought jazz into nightclubs and homes.

This full-color, laminated, eye-catching series will entice students. Photographs, a glossary, suggestions for further reading, web addresses, and a complete index will assist with reports. Detailed full-page sidebars, a chronology, and a historical time line add value.

Lesley Alexander, Adat Ari El Day School, Sherman Oaks, CA, for the American Jewish League Newsletter, May/June 2005

On The Life and Times of Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein had one of the most extraordinary lives and careers in music history. He was a multi-talented man who was a great conductor, composer, pianist, and teacher. Bernstein became an overnight sensation at the age of 25 and would spend the rest of his life in the spotlight, creating, entertaining, and sharing his love for music with the world. This book, which is one of twenty four in a series called "Masters of Music: The World's Greatest Composers," provides a concise, easy-to-read, and informative look at Leonard Bernstein's entire life. Its slick 48 pages include six chapters, a chronology of his life, a timeline of his history from 1842 through 2004, a glossary, and further reading section. Sidebars consist of full-page discussions about a person or event of significance during Bernstein's lifetime. One such event is entitled "The Nation of Israel Is Established," while another is "Romeo and Juliet on the Silver Screen." This biography includes many references to Bernstein's Jewish upbringing. His father studied the Torah and his first major composition, Symphony No. 1, also known as "Jeremiah," drew on his Jewish heritage. Recommended for grades 3 to 6 and useful for the Jewish American biography report.

School Library Journal, May 2005

On The Life and Times of George Gershwin and The Life and Times of Giuseppe Verdi

Brief looks at the lives of two well-known and important composers. In their quest for musical careers, both Gershwin and Verdi faced numerous challenges and struggles. Through persistence and determination, they realized great success—Gershwin with musicals and Verdi in opera—but also disappointment and heartache in their personal lives. Each title consists of six succinct chapters highlighting important events in the composer's life, followed by an "FYInfo" page that provides additional information relative to the previous chapter or about cultural and political developments. These help give historical perspective to the composers' lives. The layout of the books, with blue and gold highlights, black-and-white and color photos, and reproductions, adds to their overall appeal and accessibility. Personal chronologies, historical time lines, detailed indexes, and other back matter make these books ideal for research.

School Library Journal, February 2005

On The Life and Times of Scott Joplin and The Life of Hector Berlioz

These titles briefly recount the lives of two under-represented artists. Joplin rose from playing improvised ragtime in bars to become a prominent composer. Berlioz, creator of the Symphonie Fantastic, was driven by his passions and plagued by hardships. The authors deal with their subjects honestly, not shying away from the controversies that surrounded them. Bankston mentions Joplin's personal relationships but focuses on his struggle as the son of a former slave to make a living during Reconstruction. Whiting discusses Berlioz's various affairs and how they affected his career. In both books, the writing style is clear and engaging. The authors are careful to distinguish between documented and fictionalized thoughts and feelings. FYI pages discuss topics that are intended to place the men within a historical perspective.

The Horn Book Guide, Spring 2004

On The Life and Times of Scott Joplin, The Life and Times of Hector Berlioz, The Life and Times of Igor Stravinsky, and The Life and Times of Richard Wagner

Well-researched and clear, these books in five or six chapters relate biographical details of the composers' lives, emphasizing the circumstances surrounding their musical education and compositions. Photographs and reproductions illustrate chapters.

School Library Journal, February 2004

On The Life and Times of Franz Peter Schubert and The Life and Times of Ludwig van Beethoven

These inviting biographies open with an attention-grabbing chapter that provides a glimpse of the composer's life. Bankston describes how the little-known Schubert idolized Beethoven and even attended his funeral. Zannos relates how Vienna adored the angry artistry of a young and passionate Beethoven. These introductions set the tone for each book,which then proceeds from childhood to fame (or lack of) and then death. Interesting sidebars cover related topics, such as Napoleon and French expansion, the origins of Viennese coffee houses, and political revolution (Schubert); the history of the piano, the Enlightenment, and chamber music (Beethoven). These solid, well-written texts place their subjects within historical time periods and explain important political and social events. Full-color reproductions of period artworks and bright borders in primary colors add to the appeal of these volumes.

School Library Journal, February 2004

On The Life and Times of Irving Berlin and The Life and Times of Stephen Foster

These informative series entries provide the basic facts about their subjects, from childhood through death. Each composer's life is presented in a straightforward manner; topics such as Foster's father's alcoholism and blackface minstrel shows are handled with finesse. "FYI" pages, which examine such topics as "Pogroms" and "The Roaring Twenties" (Berlin), and "River Boats" and "Harriet Beecher Stowe" (Foster), are interspersed throughout. Clears photographs and reproductions in black and white and color enhance the texts. Readers will enjoy hearing the stories behind such familiar songs as "White Christmas," "God Bless America," and "Oh! Susanna." Numerous interesting facts and the inclusion of pertinent events from each era make for lively reading. For assignments, casual browsing, or required reading, theses slim volumes neatly fill the bill.

Children's Bookwatch, 2003

On The Life and Times of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, The Life and Times of George Frederic Handel, The Life and Times of Johann Sebastian Bach, and The Life and Times of John Philip Sousa

…provides grades 4-8 with lasting coverages and introductions which feature timelines, bibliographies, and plenty of basic material suitable for reports… Each holds 48 pages, with contemporary color photos offsetting useful biographical sketches of each composer's life and times.

Children's Bookwatch, November 2003

On The Life and Times of Johannes Brahms, The Life and Times of Stephen Foster, The Life and Times of Felix Mendelssohn, and The Life and Times of Irving Berlin

The new Mitchell Lane series 'Masters of Music' combines music, history, and culture with the biographies of four influential composers not often accessible to young readers in the middle grades. The individual titles comprising this enthusiastically recommended series. … come packed cover to cover with sidebar stories, chronologies, historical timelines, bibliographies for further reading, a glossary, and an index. Very nicely illustrated in full color with both period art and historical illustrations, this Masters of Music series will prove to be a welcome and popular addition to both school and community library Music History collections for young readers.

Children's Bookwatch, October 2003

On The Life and Times of Ludwig van Beethoven, The Life and Times of Franz Peter Schubert, The Life and Times of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and The Life and Times of Franz Joseph Haydn

Three wonderful new biography series titles provide kids in grades 5-6 with excellent, lasting coverages. Each hold's almost fifty pages of information including timelines, chronologies, glossaries, indexes and bibliographies, and the choice of lasting historical figures assures these will be assigned for reports. … Each focuses on the life and times of the musician, and so includes a good dose of historical background suitable for research.

Booklist, October 15, 2003

On The Life and Times of Franz Peter Schubert and The Life and Times of Franz Joseph Haydn

Selected for inclusion in "Best New Non-Fiction Series"

Books in the Masters of Music series are successful: many pictures from historical sources, chronologies, selected works, time lines, and short bibliographies. Each book opens with a characteristic vignette of the composer's life, and the straight narrative has various sidebar pages that provide historical background and notes of interest. Schubert, who adored Beethoven, had difficulty making a living, but enjoyed the elaborate parties of his friends where he could play his music. He died at age 32 of alcohol and syphilis. Haydn's cheerful nature stood him through early struggles and the trouble of dealing with several princes. He was a prolific composer, and Zannos relishes telling the stories of the Miracle Symphony and the Farewell Symphony… these books will have appeal for young music aficionados.

School Library Journal, October 2003

On The Life and Times of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and The Life and Times of Franz Joseph Haydn

Lively and packed with fascinating historical detail, these biographies fill a gap. Both books outline the lives and times of the composers with a novelist's aptitude for pacing, detail, and economy. Each volume is confined to five brief chapters, and could easily be read in a single sitting, yet readers will gain a full sense of the man's character, talents, and foibles. Chapters conclude with a page of "FYInfo" that fleshes out a tangential but significant detail—Goethe's influence on Haydn, Mozart's childhood battle with smallpox—to provide broader historical and cultural context for each man's life and work. These are thoroughly modern takes on the composers' lives; Bankston cleverly compares Mozart's prodigious fame to that of present-day pop stars, and readers can appreciate Haydn's quiet insistence on writing music without regard for popularity or financial gain as the mark of creative integrity. Each volume includes nicely rendered, full-color illustrations; a list of selected works; a useful chronology of the composer's life and historical time line; and a fine glossary of musical and historical terms. The indexes are rudimentary but functional.The further reading lists, which include a variety of print and Internet resources, merit special mention for their thoroughness.

Children's Bookwatch, August 2003

On The Life and Times of George Frederic Handel, The Life and Times of John Philip Sousa, The Life and Times of Johann Sebastian Bach, and The Life and Times of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Very highly recommended for both school and community library collections, "Masters of Music" is a new series for grades 4 to 8 and readers ages 9 to 13 from Mitchell Lane Publishers showcasing the lives of four composers, each of whom were hugely popular in their lifetimes and were to prove influential upon succeeding generations of music makers. Combining music, history, and culture with biographical information, and illustrated with both period art and historical illustration, the 48-page titles (complete with sidebar stories, chronologies, historical timelines, bibliographies for further reading, a glossary, and index) include The Life and Times of George Frederic Handel (1584151927); The Life and Times of John Philip Sousa (1584152125); The Life and Times of Johann Sebastian Bach (1584151919); and The Life and Times of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1584152117).