As someone with an extremely limited knowledge of music I have always felt intimidated by classical compositions. I could not tell you the difference between a symphony and a concerto, but after listening to these lectures I have a much better appreciation of them.
The lecturer's delivery is a cross of Lewis Black and George Will--authoritative but wickedly funny. He actually made me laugh out loud a few times. His passion for these works comes through in every lecture.
The format he follows is a brief bio-sketch of the composer followed by snippets of music and commentary. When he says "notice how the composer uses dissonant harmonies to convey struggle" you can actually hear it. Each lecture is meant to be complete in itself allowing you to jump around, but I found listening beginning to end to be most convenient.
This is an ideal work for an audio book.
If you keep your expectations low this book can entertain you with short 1-2 min anecdotes from old Hollywood stars. Most of the material is from the 20-50s and even as a fan of that period I did not recognize several names.
The production is incredibly annoying--the reader has sycophantic tone and every story is punctuated by a burst of "ditty" music ("da-deet-deet-da-da"). You will hear that ditty about 200 times by the end of the book.
The stories are the sort you would hear from the PR department of a movie studio--not TMZ. There's no real dirty laundry, just funny stories and the occasional "Oh you scamp!" moment, but the author is clearly infatuated with his subjects--probably a little too much.
Painter, musician, bibliophile...
In this brief introduction Johnson takes us from the opening e-flat of the Das Rheingold to the consuming flames of Götterdämmerung. Discussions of staging, orchestration, plot development, mythic elements and more are interspersed with musical excerpts.
Wagner designed the tetralogy to begin with the Vorabend, (a "preliminary evening") in which Das Rheingold is perfomed, followed by the succession of the operas Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung. Johnson makes an admirable presentation of each part of the cycle without excessive digression.
Of course, countless volumes have been devoted to the discussion of meaning, leitmotif, scoring, and all things Wagnerian, should one want to look deeper. But for a brief discussion of Ring essentials, look no further.
These operas share a somewhat daunting reputation. Even opera fans have been known to quaver before Valhalla! But don't be one of them. Listen to this book, then jump right in. Some of the most beautiful music ever written awaits you.