My boys are still elementary school age, so we haven't gotten into any very intense study of classical composers and styles. Everything we do is still meant to encourage enjoyment and appreciation, but the more exposure they have to a variety of music, the more the have been able to identify different styles and composers.
Last year I started using the book, The Story of the Orchestra, by Robert Levine.
While I like the concept of the book - it introduces major composers and includes portions of their work on CD - I ended up not using it much. Instead, the kids preferred full-length picture books and biographies we found in the juvenile section of the library. Now I use this book just to introduce different periods/styles of classical music and to guide the order in which we cover composers. I usually gather whatever materials I can find on a particular composer and then we'll use them for a quarter of the school year.
We started last year with the the Baroque Period (my favorite, and if I didn't realize how lopsided it would be we'd probably do all Baroque all the time!) and covered Vivaldi, Bach and Handel (Handel is not in the above-mentioned book for some reason). The fourth quarter we started into the Classical period and learned about Mozart. This year we've covered Beethoven, and are waiting until after the first of the year to start up with some Romantic composers.
I thought what I would do is give you an idea of the materials we used for a couple of these composers and then quickly list some resources that are useful for a variety of composers. This should provide an idea of the types of materials I gather for each composer... I hope :)
ANTONIO VIVALDI, 1678 - 1741
I, Vivaldi, Janet Shefelman
Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Anna Harwell Celenza
Vivaldi and the Invisible Orchestra, Stephen Costanza
Vivaldi's Ring of Mystery, from Classical Kids - a fictional story which incorporates real aspects of Vivaldi's life as a priest and orchestra director at an Venice orphanage for girls. Features his music throughout.
The Story of Vivaldi and Corelli, Music Masters series. And hour of music and narrated biography.
Vivaldi for Valentine's - this really has nothing to do with couples or Valentine's. It's just a collection of soothing ("romantic," if you will) by Vivaldi. It's great for putting on at bedtime!
We also listened repeatedly to recordings I have of The Four Seasons and Gloria - one of my favorite Vivaldi pieces. Here's the Gloria on YouTube.
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART, 1756 - 1791
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Mike Venezia
Mozart: the Wonder Child: a Puppet Play in Three Acts, Diane Stanley
Mozart, Greta Cencetti
Young Mozart, Rachel Isadora (I know we got this from the library, but I don't remember much about it... not sure if it was that great. Sorry.)
Mozart Finds a Melody, Stephen Costanza
The Magic Flute: an Opera by Mozart, Kyra Teis
Mozart's Magnificent Voyage
Mozart's Magic Fantasy: a Journey Through the Magic Flute
(both from Classical Kids) - stories relating events in the life of Mozart and a girl's "backstage" experience at a production of the Magic Flue. Both feature pieces by Mozart; the first also has music by a few other composers.)
Mozart for Meditation (relaxing, suitable for bedtime music!)
There are actually tons of Mozart compilations in this "series" from the Philips label...
for your Morning Commute
for Mothers to Be
for a Monday Morning
for your Morning Coffee
And of course, we looked to YouTube... The Mozart Requiem is one of my favorite choral pieces, so we listened to the more "exciting" portions of that like the Dies Irae. After we became familiar with the music and story of The Magic Flute we watched clips of the Queen of the Night Aria and the well-known Papagena and Papageno duet. Finally, I told the kids the story of how 14-year-old Mozart "stole" the music to Allegri's Miserere (Psalm 51) from the Vatican by committing it to memory. It is referenced in the Mozart's Magnificent Voyage CD and we read more about it here. This story was especially fun for the boys because they were already very familiar with the Miserere - it's another one of the things they love to listen to at bedtime. "Mom, what would we listen to at bedtime if Mozart had never sneaked out of the chapel and wrote it down?" We don't even have to conjecture! Here's a lovely recording... YouTube again!
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Ok, I think that's enough for now. You get the idea. There's plenty of stuff to keep you busy for an academic quarter once you choose a composer!
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Some of these have already been referenced, but here are some ideas/resources to use for a variety of composers:
BOOKS: In general, I tend to stay away from books that are collections of short bio's - things like "A Child's Book of Famous Composers" - simply because I've never found one that holds my kids' attention. They prefer, and deserve, whole books, and we all enjoy a good story! I typically scour Amazon and the library on-line catalog to find relevant titles.
Getting to Know the World's Greatest Composers, series by Mike Venezia (The kids and I both really enjoy these books. They are informative - even Venezia's trademark cartoon illustrations are full of information that the kids remember long after the book's gone back to the library. We also use his books on the artists that we're studying.)
Picture books by Anna Harwell Celenza. She has books on these composers - usually focusing on the story surrounding one particular piece of music:
Ellington / (on his arrangement of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite)
Composer biographies by Opal Wheeler. We have read only a couple of these, but have enjoyed them. I'm hoping we'll be able to track down more, but our library only has a few. She has written on all the usual suspects as well as Wagner, Chopin, Schubert, and Paganini.
CD's: Some educators disagree with the concept of using "snippets" of pieces for music study. Example - on the Mozart Masters of Classical Music disc, the first track is just the well-known Allegro movement from Eine kleine Nachtmusik. For my purposes this is fine for now. Perhaps in the future I will insist on playing complete pieces for my children, but for now, it's ok for me to provide them with compilations of the "Best of..."
Classical Kids Story Series - In addition to a handful of composers, they also have a story CD introducing early music called The Song of the Unicorn, and a delightful Christmas production called A Classical Kids Christmas. (the thing that makes this disc different from many other kids' Christmas collections is that it's almost all sacred music interwoven with the story. I really recommend it!) The composers they have are:
PHILIPS label CD's such as Bach for Breakfast, or all the Mozart titles mentioned above. It's not an actual series that I can link to, but if you click here, you'll find lots more titles featuring various composers. As I alluded to before, I'll use these collections for bedtime music a lot - so many of the collections are soothing pieces for "relaxation," "meditation," or "daydreaming."
(note - all these links are to Amazon for convenience, but we've been able to find a lot of these books and CD's through our library.)
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If you've been searching for ideas for enjoying more classical music in the home, I hope that some of this has been helpful! It's a jumping off point, at least! Please don't forget to leave your own ideas and resources here too!