Form and Content
In Story-Lives of Great Composers, Katherine Little Bakeless has selected nineteen important composers from the mid-1600’s to the mid-1900’s about whom she feels very little has been written for young adults. She tells, in short-story biographical form, of the emergence of these individuals’ musical genius, of their training, and of their reverence for the great musicians who had come before them. Many of these composers, all of whom are male, are linked through friendship, collegiality, and mentoring as well as through their dedication to the musical arts.
Bakeless begins with stories of the more modern composers—Sergei Rachmaninoff, Richard Strauss, and Jean Sibelius—and traces the heritage of these musicians back to the great composers of the past. As each chapter progresses, links are established between innovations in music and what had passed before. Three great Russian composers—Modeste Moussorgsky, Aleksandr Borodin, and Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov—have been grouped together, as have the two great Czechoslovakians—Frederick Smetana and Antonín Dvoák. These groupings mainly occur because of the similarities in music and ideals of the individuals.
Each story found within Story-Lives of Great Composers is identified by the composer’s name, followed by a quote or phrase that had significance during that composer’s lifetime. Then, in narrative form, Bakeless presents the early years of the composer’s life, discusses his schooling and progress made as a musician, and details the major accomplishments during the composer’s career. A major portion of each biography addresses the musician’s life as a young person. Each story concludes with an isolated statement that gives the composer’s place and date of birth and his place and date of death.
In addition to the basic format for each biography, Bakeless provides reproductions of photographs, etchings, drawings, or portraits of each composer. Following the final biography, the author, with the help of the Loomis Temple of Music in New Haven, Connecticut, supplies a representative list of records that provides a sample of the music of each composer included in the book.