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Write engaging program notes: Place the work in context

One approach to writing informative and authoritative program notes for your recital

What are the origins of the work?

  • When was the work written, and for what purpose?
  • When and where was the premiere?
  • Was there a dedicatee? Who were they?
  • How was the work received in its day?
  • What was happening in the composer's life at the time?  In the world?

These are some questions you may wish to consider when creating context for the work. New Grove Online and composer biographies may provide good contextual information. 

Contemporary newspaper reviews may also shed light on how people reacted to a premiere.  See the guide on historical newspaper databases, and note especially the following:


Composer biographies

Composer biographies usually discuss compositions in the context of composers' lives and the time and place in which they lived.

Search in SearchWorks using the composer's last name and the word biograph* -- note the asterisk, which will search both biography and biographies.

You can browse the catalog results and choose what looks promising.

Click on a record for a book. See the virtual bookshelf at the very bottom of the page to browse neighboring titles across all libraries, including SAL3 storage.

Note the call number begins with ML410 and then an alphanumerical code for the composer's last name.  All biographies about one composer will be on the shelf together. You can also browse the virtual bookshelf at the bottom of the catalog record, which includes books in all libraries.

See, for example, this recent biography of Johannes Brahms.

Look for a research guide

Research guides, which gather together significant books and articles about a composer, can be found in the reference room at ML134.

See, for example: