• U.S.

Music: Million-Word Charm

3 minute read

Encyclopedia Britannica of the music world is the late Sir George Grove’s five-volume Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Every 20 years or so the learned editors of Sir George’s brain child rack their teeming brains and bring forth a new edition. Between these monumental foalings there is spawned a smaller fry of musical dictionaries and encyclopedias, offering fresher if skimpier information at more modest prices. For these, the 1938 birth rate has been the highest in years.

In the past two months, three one-volume music dictionaries have seen the light. First to be delivered, the Macmillan Encyclopedia of Music and Musicians* was proudly fathered by Albert E. Wier with the collaboration of a 14-man editorial staff. A bouncing, 8¼-lb. infant, Wier’s Encyclopedia made a few natural messes (misplaced Composer Robert Schumann, killed off very-much-alive Soprano Claire Dux), but otherwise bawled informatively along through 2,089 pages. In any ordinary year Editor Wier’s weighty off spring might have taken first prize. But this week another lusty 8-lb. volume, The International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians,† was brought forth by portly Oscar Thompson. Editor Thompson, who had groaned for two and a half gravid years under the weight of his lexicographic burden, had been helped over the bumps by nearly a hundred of today’s leading musical experts, all of whom wrote special articles for it. With check lists of the works of every important composer, condensed plots of 213 operas, more than 50,000 biographies and definitions, Editor Thompson’s Cyclopedia proved one of the most fact-stuffed volumes of its kind ever to appear in English.

Niftiest and most readable of the new dictionaries* was produced by grey-haired Percy Alfred Scholes, onetime London critic and most prolific of all contemporary English writers on music. Unlike Editors Wier and Thompson, Author Scholes wanted no help with his dictionary, hid himself away in the Swiss Alps, where he labored for more than six years in an isolated house crammed with books and files. There, working from 8 a. m. to 10 p. m., day after day, intrepid Lexicographer Scholes laboriously wrote out the whole of his million-word book. When he had finished, he had covered 132 acres of paper weighing ten tons. Scholarly Scholes’s one-man Companion had one ingredient that made it unique among music dictionaries: charm. Only half the size of the two U. S. dictionaries, it is a masterpiece of condensation and cross-referencing, is beautifully illustrated.

*Macmillan ($10).

† Dodd, Mead & Co. ($12.50).

*THE OXFORD COMPANION TO MUSIC—Oxford University Press ($6.50).

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