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Classical Music 101

Written by: Fred Plotkin
Narrated by: Fred Plotkin
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Publisher's Summary

In clear and entertaining prose, Plotkin explores a thousand years of music, introduces listeners to more than 100 great works, and profiles in depth many significant composers, including Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Berlioz, Tchaikovsky, Dvoxak, and Mahler. He describes all the musical instruments in the orchestra, defines major musical terms, and makes music theory comprehensible for the uninitiated. There are also conversations with important musicians who offer fascinating insights about their art.

Classical Music 101 is a highly accessible guide to discovering the glories of classical music.

©2002 Fred Plotkin (P)2004 Blackstone Audiobooks

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Charles
  • 25-07-04

Only for true beginners

First of all, to address the main question you probably have: no, there is no music in this work. It's all Mr. Plotkin talking. And I can't say he is particularly good at it, but that's perhaps not an objective observation. His speaking might not bother everyone. At any rate, he doesn't just talk about music, he talks about how to listen to it, some of the performers, some of the pieces of music and their composers, etc., and he speaks like you expect most professors to speak: as if everyone is a complete dummy. But then, to be fair, it is called Classical Music "101", so perhaps I was expecting too much. If you know anything at all about classical music, I do not recommend this item. I suppose there's nothing wrong with it if you are truly new to it though.

39 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Kenneth Johnson
  • 24-10-07

Musical lecture

I listened to this book about three years ago, at least until my car was broken into and the device stolen! I am sure the thief got a surprise if he was able to figure out how to turn it on.
I share the disappointment with the other listeners about the lack of music on the book. However, this is a book which needs to be "read" very slowly with several trips to the musical library in order to listen to particular pieces recommended by the author. Most of the music is familiar but the discipline of listening to the same piece more than once,looking for one thing or another, can be very enriching.
I recommend this book highly but it cannot be used as a typical Audible book listened to on the go without access to a stereo system in order to actually play the music referred to as you go along.
This book is really a musical lecture and should be viewed in that light.

26 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Ram
  • 13-09-04


This book was very disappointing. There is not a note of music in this audio selection. In the beginning of the audiobook, Plotkin promises to treat his audience different and he certainly does.

If you are (a beginner) looking for a place to explain the different pieces and formations of a symphony along with a lucid explanation of different instrument with some quality aural examples, this is NOT the book.

If you are looking for someone to narrate a descritpion of all the instruments in an orchestra (with not a musical note to exeplify any instrument), spit out different chronological timelines of composers (not that the timeline is not invaluable), explain the difference between the words virtuoso and diva and the author's take on the excessive usage of the latter, buy this book....and may be it wont be as disappointing for you then.

25 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Christi
  • 19-11-04

Very, very thorough

There's a fine line between assuming nothing about a listener's prior knowledge of a subject and treating them like a dummy. Fred Plotkin stayed on the high side of that line, in my opinion. "...allowing the strings to be tightened or loosened. This is called tuning." Yes, I knew that, but Plotkin is assuming nothing about my prior exposure to music, musical instruments or the business end of the industry.

Fred Plotkin's love of music shines through every word of the book, I'll give him that. This is the first time I've ever found a description of a musical instrument in need of a PG rating. ;) His is not necessarily the voice of a professional reader, but he adds a fair about of expression to a heavily academic discussion.

No, the book is not a thrill a minute, but it isn't intended to be. Almost too dry for a popular audience, but not quite dry enough for a textbook. Definitely an education in classical music for the uninitiated, though.

19 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Lindsey
  • 05-06-05

Terribly boring

No attempt was made to add musical illustration to the audiobook. It was dull, a bit pretentious, and I didn't bother to finish downloading it.

6 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Christina
  • 15-11-04

can't bear to listen to this narrator

Apparently I didn't read the customer reviews for this book. One of them clearly states that there is nary a note of music in it. This is my first real disappointment in the audio titles I've chosen from

6 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Troy
  • 14-04-14

Invaluable Insight

As with Plotkin's Opera 101 (which I reviewed earlier), this book is an invaluable insight into this subject matter. As with Opera 101, it's clear from the beginning that Plotkin loves classical music, and his objective is to help you to love it too. His book is designed as a launch pad for discovery, not a textbook of facts. Plotkin is an accredited and acknowledged expert in the field, and while it's expected for his audience to keep up with him, he does his best to bring his expertise to a level where general audiences can do just that. Again, as with Opera 101, the author assumes that the audience has had some exposure to the music and wants to catapult beyond the beginner level to a realm of true appreciation. This book covers history, anecdotal tales, musical theory, analysis, and even an overview of the various instruments in the orchestra. For the true novice, there is a section that outlines the expectations of attending a concert performance.

Many other reviews I've seen lamented that the music itself wasn't a part of this audiobook, and while that's a hindrance, such a thing would likely have been a licensing nightmare as many of the performances are not in the public domain. He does outline, however, exactly which performances he's referencing, and suggests that if you can't find them at a library (or perhaps online these days), then other recordings will suffice in most cases.

If there is a true negative to be found in this book, it's the author's own performance. He reads as though he's not reading his own work, and the recording is semi-professional at best. What I mean by that is that every time he takes a breath or smacks his lips, you hear it. There's no post-production to cover up that distraction. Even so, the breadth of his knowledge that's offered here more than makes up for it in my humble opinion, and he does it without talking down to you. If you engage the material, there's no reason this book shouldn't open up a new level of appreciation.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Jim
  • 22-02-12

Cant take it any more

Fred Plotkin is probably a very knowledgeable music lover. I say probably because I wasn't physically able to listen to his book for more than 4 chapters. He narrates the book himself and he is AWFUL. It sounds like he has a cold. I wanted to like this book. I made a very concerted effort to stop being a weak listener, and just get over whatever was bothering me, but I just couldn't.

There is an adjustment period at the begining of any audiobook, to get used to the narrator. I assume that Mr. Plotkin would just require of me a longer adjustment period. I don't have the patience to go on. I lived and died with every gulp of saliva and mispronounced "n".

Also, there is no actual music in the recordings. This seems like such an easy principle: If you convert a book about an auditory experience to an audiobook, then you should include the subject matter!

A failure on multiple levels!

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Michael
  • 09-02-12

Get the music to listen to.

What disappointed you about Classical Music 101?

Fred Plotkin knows his stuff, but a little tedious to listen to.

What could Fred Plotkin have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

Added some of the recordings of music into the production. Not all of it, but a sample. I had trouble finding some recordings and although I agree 100% with Fred, it makes this book into a course of classical music appreciation rather than a book to listen to on the commute to and from work.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

Fred is a nice guy. Knowledgeable, interesting but a little 'nerdy'. Not the most entertaining reader.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

Gave me an insight into the development and history of classical music. I think I appreciate all music more now.

Any additional comments?

Not for the faint hearted. A good book, but perhaps better as a reference manuel.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Puppy
  • 01-03-20

I love it!

I love it. I heard it before from the library, but now I have it on my Kindle. I play the piano -- mostly classical -- and I have a background in high school concert and symphony experience, but I still enjoyed it. I love to hear different perspectives, and ideas. There is always something to learn. I highly recommend his "Opera 101", as he is considered an expert in this field, and has worked within it for many, many years.


1 person found this helpful

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  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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  • ZX80
  • 17-06-06

Very Disappointing

I purchased this audiobook in an attempt to improve my knowledge of classical music. I am a ?casual? fan of classical music and have been for most of my life but felt it was time I addressed my woeful lack of knowledge around the composers and their histories. I was also looking to enhance my appreciation and to discover pieces that I had not heard or, if I had heard them, to learn to more fully appreciate them.

The medium of the audiobook is unique ? it is not the same as reading a paper book, nor is it like watching a movie ? you have scope to deliver imagination or knowledge through auditory senses that I would like to think are ideally suited to the study of a subject such as classical music but in this case we have little more than a written book being read (somewhat monotonously, it has to be said) page by page, chapter by chapter. Bizarrely this extends to ?pauses? in the text where you are invited to go and listen to a particular recording or composition.

Why the produces of this audiobook did not make the connection and think ? ?hey, we could include at lease some of the subject matter along with the text? is beyond me. For over ?45.00 (and that?s discounted !!) I would have expected more.

I am sorry to say that the majority of this audiobook will go un-listened to in my collection ? I have better things to do with my short life ? such as listen to classical music!

34 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Gang
  • 19-08-10

Not that good as what I expected

The tone of the speaking voice of this audio book, for me, is not that good. soooo calm with his voice. sorry for my feeling....

1 person found this helpful