Bach, Beethoven and the Boys


147 pages
Contains Illustrations
ISBN 0-920151-07-8
DDC 780'





Reviewed by Desmond Maley

Desmond Maley is a librarian at the J.W. Tate Library, Laurentian


This book is David W. Barber’s entertaining and irreverent contribution to the study of music history. Barber, who is an Honours Music graduate of Queen’s University, obviously believes that conventional music history takes its subject too seriously. His book attempts to redress this imbalance.

For example, we learn that Haydn’s wife used his manuscripts to line cake tins, that an angry Beethoven once dumped a plate of veal and gravy over a waiter’s head, and that French composer Darius Milhaud once wrote an opera only seven minutes long. These and other curious facts appear in a book which covers, in snapshot style, the history of music from the middle ages to the modern era.

Barber’s conversational tone is well suited to the nature of the material. His use of footnotes is especially interesting: instead of documenting sources, they make mordant observations about the narrative. Dave Donald’s illustrations add to the mood of piquancy. However, there are occasional factual errors. The book is also marred by numerous typographical errors.

Bach, Beethoven and the Boys lampoons traditional academic history, highlights little-known facts concerning the lives of the great composers, and has a number of tongue-in-cheek remarks to make concerning the development of musical style. This book can be recommended to all music lovers and students who wish to enjoy their music history in a lighter vein.



Barber, David W., “Bach, Beethoven and the Boys,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 30, 2024,