Best single volume guide to classical music

For a Valentine’s Day present.  Preferably fun to read.  Doesn’t need to get deep into minuscia. At this point in our evolution, I could imagine one with QR codes to take the reader to great performances of pieces.  Or a downloadable supplement!  But I doubt that exists.  Anyhow - thanks in advance. 


Funny that you pose this question as I am looking at what I have been using as I read your post. In any event you may want to check out Penguin Guide to the 1000 Best Classical recordings.  What I have is a 2011 version so perhaps there is a newer version.  The penguin guides used to be very well regarded but now the older versions are dated unless you collect records in which case they still would be useful.

Greene's Biographical Encyclopedia of Composers by David Mason Greene. Best classical music bathroom reading of all time. Not in print apparently but not at all expensive used.

My favorite addition to the many good and worth recommendations so far:

"The Life and Death of Classical Music featuring the 100 Best and 20 Worst Recordings Ever Made" by Norman Lebrecht, Anchor Books, 2007

Eccentric, personal, knowledgeable, cranky, informative and fun.


@fredapplegate Thanks for the suggestion, but not really what I'm looking for.  Want a book about the composers and the compositions rather than the performers.

@goethe58 Looks interesting! Perhaps one can find the same referenced pieces on Qobuz....

For a survey that is about composers and their works, and not about recordings, I would recommend "A History of Western Music" by Burkholder.  Another classic is "The Lives of the Great Composers" by Schonberg.

The ultimate book source of information on music is the New Groves Dictionary of Music it is a fairly large encyclopedia with topics arranged alphabetically.   Even very old sets are north of $500 and it does take up a lot of room.  It is fun to browse if you have an interest in music, but, it is primarily a tool for very serious students.