This has been lavishly
praised in the press. This is, of course,
a reference work. One does not read
a book like this straight through. One
necessarily buys it on faith, assuming,
hoping even, that when one needs advice,
the book will have it.
Naturally any musically
knowledgeable person after months of
working with a book like this would
come up with a list of terms left out
which he or she might feel ought to
be included, and areas where a dictionary
definition should have more detail and/or
more clarity. This is the hazard of
the game. But my experience was that
in merely a few moments of casual leafing
through I found a rather long list of
problems, such as:
The word carmen
is defined as a Latin word for song
or poem. But the authors donít mention
that the plural of carmen is carmina,
as in Carmina Burana. Is every
person who goes to the Proms concerts
secure on third declension Latin plurals?
The essay on modes
does not give enough information to
allow a person to understand the mode
numbers in the titles of the pieces
in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, probably
the only place a contemporary music-lover
is likely to encounter mode numbers.
The authors mention
that the first cebell, "a
kind of gavotte," written in England
was for the lute, but donít say that
the distinguishing characteristic of
the cebell is that it has an extended
written out flourish, presumably for
a solo dancer. They do give this level
of detail in their description of the
character of the fandango.
They say a lot about
passacaglia and chaconne,
but donít point out that passacaglias
are more for guitar or lute - which
you can play while walking down the
street - or, consequently, keyboard
instruments reading from tablature;
and chaconnes are more for static ensembles
of, mostly, strings. Bach observed this
distinction. The family relationship
with the fandango in the sense
of variations over a repeating motive
could also have been mentioned.
They adhere to this
ageís obsession with vertical writing
and do not mention that figured bass
is a short-hand way of writing counterpoint
as well as harmony; in those musical
styles where figured bass was used counterpoint
was generally more important than harmony.
They suggest, but do
not clarify, that the acciacatura
is notated the same as the short appogiatura,
or "grace note". I think this
is the case; otherwise, what is
the notation for the acciacatura?
They do give corresponding
American terms in their definitions,
but favor the British definitions, sometimes
not giving the American terms their
own separate listing, or sometimes only
with a cross-reference. We would expect
Oxford University Press to do this,
even though on other occasions OUP has
produced reference books with a decided
mid-Atlantic focus, or even a North
American focus. I donít think American
readers would have any problem finding
their way through this book. Most American
readers will spend half their time with
this book looking up semi-breve,
crotchet, quaver, hemidemisemiquaver,
etc.., over and over again; those pages
will likely get quite dirty from handling.
A table of these terms would have been
helpful, included under "note values"
or maybe even as a frontispiece.
The word jazz is
wisely not defined, not even to reprint
Virgil Thomsonís rather pompously reductionist
one, or anything from Adorno, most likely
from the desire to avoid violence. Swing,
blues, rock, rag[time], rap, torch,
are also all omitted even though some
of these are going on 100 years of usage.
But I suspect theyíre all in Grove and
probably should stay there.
There is one completely
inexcusable omission: the "word"
MIDI. While many do not know
what it means, do not understand it,
the future of music of all kinds rests
securely in this concept. Any musical
dictionary, however elementary, which
does not include it is significantly
flawed. The editors might refer me to
the foreword where they state their
intentions in including words for definition.
Iím not ignorant of their point of view;
Iím saying that they are addressing
a readership and thereby assume the
responsibility of serving that readership
irrespective of what they might choose
or do not choose to say.
I should in fairness
list at least some of the overwhelming
number of definitions which are models
if not marvels of concise precision,
but I will include only one: The authors
correctly translate and define the marking
allegro as an indication, first
of cheerful character, and only later
as a simple fast tempo marking. It is
to be hoped that this will reduce the
frequency of such markings as "allegro
tragico" or "allegro lamentoso".
Earlier musicians knew enough Italian
not to make this mistake.
Summing up, I think
more attention could have been paid
to the specific questions a modestly
knowledgeable person would be asking,
perhaps at the expense of meeting abstract
or philosophically consistent criteria
of coverage. I hope my comments will
prove useful in preparing the next revision
of this book.
A scholarly, well-written, very useful
book which, with a little common sense,
could have been just a little more useful.