Music History I: Biography Writing Assignment

Finding Composer Biographies
Where are the books?
Books about music (including composer biographies) are on the basement level of the library.  Follow the stacks around to the ML410s. ML410 is the call number for books specifically about composers, and within that call number the books are arranged (roughly) by composer last name.  

You can also search the catalog using a subject search for books about your composer.  Just choose "subject" from the drop down below and enter your composer's name (last name, first name) into the search box.  Text yourself the call number before heading down to the basement to save time!

 
Michelle's tips for analyzing a biography
  • Take a look at when the book was written.  If it's older, it's good to know that (depending on the composer, new material might have been discovered since the book was written).
  • Read the table of contents.  Sometimes the chapter titles are straightforward and include things like dates, sometimes they're a bit more inventive and require further reading.
  • Read the introductory material (preface, foreword, “prelude,” introduction: it could be called many things).  The preface usually lays out, in just a few pages, why the author wrote the book, how he or she organized it, and what the "theme" of the book will be. 
  • Take a look at the book jacket (if it's there). It too will tell you about the author.
  • Read at least the introductory paragraphs of each chapter.  The author will often tell you what the chapter will cover within the first couple paragraphs.  
Comparing Biographies
Why analyze biographies?
So what's the point in analyzing and comparing biographies?  
  1. It reminds you that there are still sources other than the Googles out there for learning about composers and the library has those sources!
  2. By learning something about the author, you can understand his or her own biases. Is she a music historian, a non-music historian, a musician, a relative?  A person lacking a musical background won't have the technical know-how to analyze the music, but they might have an interesting take on the composer's life.  A performing musician's perspective on a composer might be quite different from a musicologist's perspective.
  3. The choices an author makes in arranging their biography says a lot about what their focus is.  Is the book arranged chronologically or topically?  Are life and works split into different chapters?  How do these choices affect the way a composer's life is presented?
  4. You may one day be called upon to write program notes, or speak about the music you're performing.  By knowing something about the way people write and talk about composers, you're giving yourself a chance to form your own opinion about how you'd talk about them.  Are you a no-nonsense, just-the-facts kind of person?  Are you interested in understanding a composer in the context of his historical era?  Are you more concerned with the psychology of the composer - why he wrote what and the way he did?  
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