All I ever needed to know about classical music (I learned from the Music Lover’s Handy-Dial Guide)

My colleague Jessica Smithorn got the coolest Christmas present from her mom this year. It’s the ‘Music Lover’s Handy-Dial Guide to the Great Composers” – a sort of secret decoder ring guide to classical music.

Music Lover’s Handy-Dial Guide

On the flip side, it helps you out at the opera, doubling as the “Handy-Dial Guide to the Great Operas.”


Music Lover’s Handy-Dial Guide to the Opera 

It’s a lovely little reference tool for knowing just enough about classical music to get by in polite society, ca. 1941.  Each listed composer is described with dates, major compositions, and a fun fact. 

Some of these facts…are a little strange. For example, Maurice Ravel:


Music Lover’s Handy-Dial Guide -- Ravel - Died Insane

(In case you were wondering, the more nuanced version of “Died insane” via the AllMusicGuide: “In 1932, an injury [Ravel] sustained in an automobile accident started a physical decline that resulted in memory loss and an inability to communicate. He died in 1937, following brain surgery.”)


A few other facts that we learned playing around doing important research with the Music Lover’s Handy-Dial Guide:

Nikolas Rimsky-Korsakoff: Was Naval Officer; Self-taught musician

Johann Sebastian Bach: “Music took on maturity at his bidding” 
  (what does that even mean?)

Joseph Haydn: Taught Beethoven

Franz Liszt: Greatest of all pianists – father-in-law of Wagner

Jan Sibelius: Most important modern composer

This reference guide is from 1941, so several composers who have since passed were still alive at the time of printing, including Sibelius and Stravinsky. 

Here’s an example of what you can find when you flip the dial over and learn about opera

Carmen  Bizet  Paris 1875  Spain
Tragedy – 4
Carmen  Escamillo  Jose
Habanera  Toreador Song  Io Dico No

(Opera name, composer, premiere, setting, type and number of acts, main characters, famous excerpts).

Music Lover’s Handy-Dial Guide -- Die Meistersinger

The delightful Music Lover’s Handy-Dial Guide found its way into our life thanks to a garage sale find-turned Christmas gift.  If you are not so lucky as to have one land in your lap, there’s one listed for sale over on Etsy; otherwise keep your eyes open at garage sales and on Ebay.

If you have any fun classical music ephemera that you’d like to share, let me know in the comments or say hi over on Facebook.

Thank you to Jessica Smithorn for sharing the Music Lover's Handy-Dial Guide, and to Gretchen Spittler and Jessica for taking photos!





Andrew Wheeland's picture

I love little finds like this! I can only hope there is more to be said about me someday than "Died Insane." :-)