Need the last word on music? Try Grove's

For 20 years since its last revision, Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the best music encyclopedia in any language, has been perused with profit by everyone from teenage homework slaves to professional musicologists.

This November, a new revision will appear, in 29 volumes instead of the 20 of 1980. Some 16 million words have been expanded to 25 million, with more than 5,000 entirely new articles on subjects from Bach to Zemlinsky. The list price is a whopping $4,850, but there are discounts available for early purchase and payment.

In a groundbreaking change, this Grove's will be available online for an annual fee of $650. Soon readers may opt for a month's subscription, or 10 24-hour sessions.

Although this new Grove's beefs up its coverage of jazz, pop, and other musical forms, it is still in essence an explicator of classical music. And if ominous classical CD sales figures are any indication, the general reader needs solid explanations of why Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, et al. are worthy of attention, let alone lesser-known great composers like Josquin or Obrecht.

Edited by a British team, Grove's is written by an international band of music mavens, more than 6,000 authors from 98 countries, double the contributors for the 1980 effort.

That's quite a difference from the work's humble beginnings in 1890, written in four volumes by a handful of scribes coordinated by a British engineer and Bible scholar Sir George Grove. Sir George was such an obsessed researcher that he stayed in the British Library until he was afflicted with "museum fleas." The dictionary folk tell us with typical British discretion that Grove "endured a passionless, unrewarding marriage. Intense extramarital relationships were intellectual rather than physical, leaving him with much frustration and private loneliness."

And plenty of time for musical research, one presumes.

Sir George would be pleased with the parts of the new Grove's that are a crackling good read - musicians' often-dramatic lives written elegantly by experts, like Malcolm Gillies on Bartk.

Since 1980 the onward march of Grove's has produced separate dictionaries of jazz, opera, and musical instruments, and these, no doubt, contributed to the density of the new work.

When the 1980 Grove's appeared, arch critics like the astringent Charles Rosen attacked it roundly on points of detail, while praising its entirety. The Grove's team seems to have taken that useful criticism to heart.

Like that other irresistible British reference work, the "Guinness Book of World Records," Grove's looks likely to remain the final word on its subject for decades to come. To preempt the motto of that British-born Broadway musical "Cats," "Now and forever, Grove's!"

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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