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The Composer Is Dead
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The Composer Is Dead

4.2 33
by Lemony Snicket, Carson Ellis (Illustrator), Nathaniel Stookey (Music Score by)

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There's dreadful news from the symphony hall—the composer is dead!

If you have ever heard an orchestra play, then you know that musicians are most certainly guilty of something. Where exactly were the violins on the night in question? Did anyone see the harp? Is the trumpet protesting a bit too boisterously?

In this perplexing murder mystery


There's dreadful news from the symphony hall—the composer is dead!

If you have ever heard an orchestra play, then you know that musicians are most certainly guilty of something. Where exactly were the violins on the night in question? Did anyone see the harp? Is the trumpet protesting a bit too boisterously?

In this perplexing murder mystery, everyone seems to have a motive, everyone has an alibi, and nearly everyone is a musical instrument. But the composer is still dead.

Perhaps you can solve the crime yourself. Join the Inspector as he interrogates all the unusual suspects. Then listen to the accompanying audio recording featuring Lemony Snicket and the music of Nathaniel Stookey performed by the San Francisco Symphony. Hear for yourself exactly what took place on that fateful, well-orchestrated evening.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

A stint narrating live performances of Peter and the Wolf led Snicket (aka Daniel Handler) to collaborate with Stookey on this introduction to the instruments of the orchestra (see "Lemony Snicket Redux," Oct. 27). In true Snicket fashion, the device is a picture book cum police procedural, with a murder investigation functioning as plot. The tone is set by the opening spread, which describes the composer, face down at his desk, "not humming.... not moving, or even breathing." The single line of text on the next page reads: "This is called decomposing." (The illustration shows a large, menacing fly.) The witty wordplay proceeds with the Inspector, a rosy-cheeked Hercule Poirot type in a bowler and pinstripe suit, interrogating each section, beginning with the First Violins, "who have the trickier parts to play," followed by the Second Violins, "who are more fun at parties." Ellis (known for her art for the band The Decemberists as well as for illustrating the Mysterious Benedict Society books) brightens the heavily black stage scenes with coral, gold and sepia accents against expansive white backgrounds. Silhouettes of each instrument add a period feel. The accompanying CD features Snicket narrating and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra performing Stookey's original score. A national tour begins March 7 in New York City. Ages 5-up. (Mar.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature - Anita Barnes Lowen
The Composer is dead and his death was very suspicious. The Inspector (looking just a bit like dapper Hercule Poirot) is called in to find the murderer...or murderers. He begins by questioning all of the usual suspects—the strings, the brass, the woodwinds, and the percussion instruments. The violins are interrogated first, but they have an alibi. They were playing graceful melodies so the ladies and gentlemen could waltz around and around all night long. The cellos and basses were providing accompaniment and couldn't possibly be guilty. In fact, all of the instruments have very good alibis. "I'm utterly baffled," says the Inspector. "I've questioned all of the instruments in the orchestra, and none of them seems to be the murderer." But the fact remains—the Composer is dead. Could it be the work of one man? Perhaps the one with the little stick? Did he work alone or did he have an accomplice? And in the musical world, is a little occasional murder necessary if you want to hear the works of the world's greatest composers? This is a delightfully different introduction to the instruments of the orchestra. Includes a CD featuring the author's narration and the music of the composer (presumably alive and well) performed by the San Francisco Symphony. Recommended. Reviewer: Anita Barnes Lowen
School Library Journal

K-Gr 5

Benjamin Britten's "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" has been the gold standard for introducing children to instruments since 1946. The concept has been embraced (some may say enhanced) by none other than Lemony Snicket, whose picture-book overview offers the additional layer of a murder mystery. The CD presentation features music by Nathaniel Stookey, performed by the San Francisco Symphony. The story is well paced, employing wordplay, humor, and mild suspense to build a slow crescendo that originates with the delicate strings and climaxes with percussion. The bombastic Inspector, read by Snicket on the CD, sports pinstripes, a bowler hat, and a handlebar mustache in the book. As he interrogates each section of the orchestra, the instruments describe their whereabouts on the night of the crime in characteristic voices, telling something about their actual roles while offering imagery for the illustrator. Thus, "'We were performing a waltz,' said the Violins. 'We played graceful melodies so the ladies and gentlemen could spin around and around and around until they felt dizzy and somewhat nauseous.'" Ellis's watercolors combine caricatures of the action with silhouettes of the instruments. Evidence leads to the conductor, since "wherever there's a conductor, you're sure to find a dead composer!" Musings on justice versus art point to certain acquittal. Due to the length of the musical portions, it is unlikely that children will listen and read simultaneously. It is quite likely, however, that both formats will provide entertainment and enlightenment, in whatever order they are encountered.-Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library

Kirkus Reviews
In this characteristically unsettling invitation to Meet the Orchestra, the Composer leads off-dead or, as the author puts it, "decomposing" at his desk. Enter the Inspector-bearing a certain resemblance to the aforementioned scrivener (or at least his alter ego) in Ellis's note-strewn, atmospherically wan watercolors-to grill each section of instruments and to pick apart their alibis. When the Inspector at last accuses the Conductor of doing the dirty deed, all of the former suspects step up to declare collective guilt: "All of us have butchered a composer at one time or another. But we also keep composers alive." On the accompanying CD the melodramatic narrative is set to percussive music, which is reprised without the author's reading on a second set of tracks. Conceived as an alternative to "Peter and the Wolf" but more a send-up than an informational visit to the pit, the episode isn't likely to make much of a lasting impression on young audiences. (Picture book. 8-10, adult)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.70(w) x 11.00(h) x 0.60(d)
AD710L (what's this?)
Age Range:
5 - 10 Years

Meet the Author

Lemony Snicket had an unusual education which may or may not explain his ability to evade capture. He is the author of the 13 volumes in A Series of Unfortunate Events, several picture books including The Dark, and the books collectively titled All The Wrong Questions.

Colin Meloy once wrote Ray Bradbury a letter, informing him that he "considered himself an author too." He was ten. Since then, Colin has gone on to be the singer and songwriter for the band the Decemberists, where he channels all of his weird ideas into weird songs. With the Wildwood Chronicles, he is now channeling those ideas into novels.

As a kid, Carson Ellis loved exploring the woods, drawing, and nursing wounded animals back to health. As an adult, little has changed—except she is now the acclaimed illustrator of several books for children, including Lemony Snicket's The Composer Is Dead, Dillweed's Revenge by Florence Parry Heide, and The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.

Colin and Carson live with their sons, Hank and Milo, in Oregon.

Brief Biography

Snicket is something of a nomad. Handler lives in San Francisco, California.
Date of Birth:
February 28, 1970
Place of Birth:
Handler was born in San Francisco in 1970, and says Snicket's family has roots in a land that's now underwater.
Handler is a 1992 graduate of Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

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The Composer is Dead 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
LukeyLover More than 1 year ago
I LOVE this book! It rings so true to what a real orchestra is like. Everything, well almost everything, about the string section is SO true! I felt like I was reading about my own orchestra at times! I would definitely recommend this to older children or teens, even adults. This is certainly not a book for young children. I would recommend this book to music students and ESPECIALLY as a gift to orchestra directors!! :D
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is great!! If you like music than you will love this book!! Even if you dont like music you will love it. Lemony Snicket is an awesome author. That is why you should read this!!!!!
Conflicted More than 1 year ago
The Composer is Dead, when you first hear the name, probably doesn't sound very nice. But in today's scociety of fear of the mention a needles and blood, it is actually a refreahing title. However, I was quite surprised. Unlike Mr. Snicket's previous tale involving a potato pancake, it is actaully entertaining. It is quite different from today's need for facts, as similar to tales of old this story has talking instruments. The inspector is a dashing man who is quick to make you laugh, and the intruments have very interesting personalities. When read by itself, the story is cute and silly. But when you play the needed CD that comes with it, it becomes a whole new story. The book is incomplete without, believe me. With the CD, it is as if the whole thing is taking place right next to you, and you are there for all the facts you can get. This book also introduces a possible new method of story telling for the future with the CD. Plus, if you're feeling a little lazy, you can just pop the CD into your player and go about you buisness, leaving the story to play. Of course, you'd be missing out on the wonderful art style if you did that. In an intersting twist, the story has a meaning, yet not a moral. There is a lesson learned, yet all it will do is open your eyes to the world, not change your veiw of it. If you're only going to buy one book with an Audio CD in it, make sure this is it. Sincerly, The Conflicted Reviewer
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you love music, and mystery, this book is right for you! A hilariously funny and shockingly true representation of the stereotypical orchestra, this book is not only able to amuse the common spectator but also succeeds in keeping the attention of those of us who are a little more musically inclined. Backed by great music and an interesting twist on a classic 'who done it' storyline, this book is truly, one of a kind.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I mean im a huge snicket fan but this isnt the best book ive seen better from snicket but still huge snicket fan not the best book
rr56 More than 1 year ago
What a wonderful, funny, informative book. If you like music, mystery and puns, this is a book for you. You don't even have to be a child to enjoy it. I have shared this with everyone I know, who has children or loves music! Will it ever replace Peter and the Wolf as the standard for educating children about the part of the orchestra, who knows? It is a most singular book!
dorothyNY More than 1 year ago
I absolutely LOVED this book! It is clever, funny, educational, suspicious, engaging, and about dead composers. What more could a young child need?! As a Violist, I have to be a little taken aback, but honestly, it was a wonderful book and CD. My 13-year old daughter and I will have a hard time giving up this book to my 4-year old nephew who we originally bought it for. One prior reviewer said it was only appropriate for older kids, but I wholly disagree. Kids can handle more than you think, and this is entertaining and educational on very many levels. I personally think it was the clarinets who did it.
Bex_The_Babe More than 1 year ago
The title is definitely a bit creepy, but I got such a kick out of reading it. If you have ever played an instrument or been in a band/orchestra, then you will appreciate this book. Lots of "grown up" inside jokes. Would not recommend for young children. I'd say it's more of a picture book for adults/teens, but olders kids might like it too. Would make a great gift for a musician or a music teacher.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
lovelybookshelf More than 1 year ago
I've had Lemony Snicket's The Composer Is Dead on my to-read list for a while, only familiar with bits and pieces of it. My library got it in for me via interlibrary loan, and now I know I must purchase a copy to have at the house. Although this musical murder mystery can be read on its own as a picture book, I feel The Composer Is Dead really needs to be experienced as a complete package: audio and book. Set aside time (30 minutes) to really listen, take in and enjoy the music that occurs around the words of the story. Listeners will experience the instruments of the orchestra, musical terms such as waltz and cadenza, discover how the orchestra tunes, and learn a slew of names of famous (and dead) composers. Best of all, we are treated to the deliciously dark humor of Lemony Snicket. Word plays abound, and there are a number of inside jokes musicians will appreciate (flutes imitating birds, forgotten violas, loud trumpets). The Composer Is Dead is written and narrated by Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler) and illustrated by Carson Ellis; the music is written by American composer Nathaniel Stookey and performed by the San Franciso Symphony. This brilliant and exciting work proves that classical music can be enjoyable and accessible to all audiences while keeping its musical standards high.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a picture book. A good one.
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I love his books!!! He never disappoints me!! Please write more books!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As an elementary music teacher, I love this book! It has witty "characters" in the orchestral instruments and a fun "who-dun-it" plot. Adults will appreciate the double entendres and the sarcasm while children will giggle at the instruments and pictures. The CD that is included provides an awesome read-aloud version, with music that conveys the changing emotions of the book and a hysterical reading by Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler). The only thing I would warn the buyer about is that the music is sometimes scary-sounding, and when I read this with a first grade class they were truly frightened! I would recommend this for ages 5+ for the book, and 8+ for the CD version.
cd75 More than 1 year ago
This is a quirky book that has an interesting plot with the entire orchestra playing out the story. I just took my 4 year old to the symphony and she remembered the parts of the orchestra of which I credit this book.