Language of the Spirit

An Introduction to Classical Music

Regular Price $30

Regular Price $38 CAD

Regular Price $30

Regular Price $38 CAD

Also Available From:

Buy Now:

On Sale

Apr 11, 2017

Page Count

336 Pages




A preeminent composer, music scholar, and biographer presents an engaging and accessible introduction to classical music

For many of us, classical music is something serious — something we study in school, something played by cultivated musicians at fancy gatherings. In Language of the Spirit, renowned music scholar Jan Swafford argues that we have it all wrong: classical music has something for everyone and is accessible to all. Ranging from Gregorian chant to Handel’s Messiah, from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons to the postmodern work of Philip Glass, Swafford is an affable and expert guide to the genre. He traces the history of Western music, introduces readers to the most important composers and compositions, and explains the underlying structure and logic of their music.

Language of the Spirit is essential reading for anyone who has ever wished to know more about this sublime art.

What's Inside

Read More Read Less


"Language of the Spirit includes an array of unpretentious, charming anecdotes, stories once universally known but (Mr. Swafford suspects) now need retelling. His book is perfect for people who are curious about classical music but feel somewhat intimidated by it."
Wall Street Journal
"This book distils [Jan Swafford's] experience of passing on his knowledge and experience to others, and making it enjoyable for them.... Between the stories of the composers, Mr. Swafford slips in many interesting digressions.... Mr. Swafford entertains as he informs. But in the end, music to him is a thing unto itself, "'a language of the spirit--its essence can't be captured in words.'"
"A compact, reader-friendly volume... Swafford is a witty and impassioned guide to the great composers and the great masterpieces... Equally important for an introductory audience, he is intimately familiar with the rich layer of anecdotes that envelops the lives of the composers and enlivens every effective music history course... an upbeat, uninhibited romp through the repertoire."
Weekly Standard
"In this delightful primer to classical music, composer and music scholar Swafford (The Vintage Guide to Classical Music) conducts us breathlessly on a tour of the highlights of the history of classical music, from the beginnings of music up through the present....Swafford provides excellent suggestions for listening at the end of each chapter, and his entertaining and instructive book encourages us to listen to the breadth and depth of classical music for delight and pleasure."—Publishers Weekly
"A workable foundation from which readers can more deeply and broadly explore the music."
"In Language of the Spirit, Jan Swafford achieves something very difficult: he captures the spirit of music in words. His series of short sketches of composers and their works ring true, and, more importantly, send you running to listen to the music for yourself."
Emanuel Ax, Pianist
"The genuine love of music is at the core of Jan Swafford's latest book. Unlike his previous works, which are primarily biographies, Language of the Spirit is a glimpse into Swafford's life. His is a journey into what music means on a highly personal level. It reminds those of us in the profession why we became musicians in the first place."
Leonard Slatkin, Conductor and Music Director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra
"Humbly and with great generosity of spirit, Jan Swafford opens the door to the world of classical music and encourages us to experience it through the emotions it evokes. He makes us realize that we are all equipped to approach this greatest of the arts, and helpfully gets us started off in the right direction."
Ted Libbey, author of The NPR Listener's Encyclopedia of Classical Music
"A perfect, lean compendium from a scintillating writer who knows profoundly where music comes from, and the geniuses who've made it best in the Western tradition. Composer and biographer on the grand scale, Jan Swafford has given us the last music book we'll ever need. The rest is listening!"
Chris Lydon, host of Radio Open Source
"Once again Jan Swafford's engaging enthusiasm for classical music has produced a book which will enhance his reputation and bring much enjoyment to all who read it. As an introduction to classical music this is a book that should be read by all, young and old, who have a curiosity about classical music but who were never fortunate enough to meet a mentor such as Professor Swafford. It should be required reading in all schools!"
John O'Conor, award-winning pianist and former Director of the Royal Irish Academy of Music
"Reading Jan's Swafford's Language of the Spirit is like taking a road trip through the land of classical music with your wickedly smart but charmingly self-deprecating best friend in charge of the map, stopping by must-see landmarks and hidden by-ways that are clearly personal favorites. Music to Swafford is not a dry, intellectual exercise, but rather an emotional experience touching on the full range of feeling of which humans are capable. Slip a copy of Language of the Spirit into your pocket the next time you attend a symphony performance and consult it before the lights dim-Swafford will help you hear all the richness and depth of the music he so loves."
Elizabeth Lunday, author of Secret Lives of Great Composers
Read More Read Less

Meet The Author: Jan Swafford

Jan Swafford is a preeminent composer and music scholar and the author of bestselling The Vintage Guide to Classical Music. A regular contributor to Slate, the Guardian, and the Boston Globe and a former professor of composition at the Boston Conservatory, Swafford lives in Medford, Massachusetts.

Discover More