Within a Budding Grove

The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Second Edition

edited by Stanley Sadie
Grove, 29 volumes, $4,850.00; on-line subscriptions at grovemusic.com for $295.00 per year, with other pricing plans available

The bibliophile and founding father of French Romanticism, Charles Nodier—or, rather, his invented alter ego, the bibliomaniac Théodore—walking in Paris along the quais of the Seine lined for several miles with secondhand booksellers, was appalled at the vast quantity of recent books remaindered and exposed to the rain and the urban dust, “the inept scraps of modern literature never to be ancient literature…. The quais henceforth are only the morgue of contemporary celebrities!”1 The miles of dead literature arranged in rows were, and still are, terrifying to behold.

Contemplating the development of Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians from Sir George Grove’s personal and almost intimate four volumes of the nineteenth century into the double columns of the twenty tomes of The New Grove of 1980 and the twenty-nine of the present revision published in the year 2001 invokes a comparable despair and terror as well as considerable admiration. There are many splendid new articles that delight as well as instruct, but the spectacle of so many thousands of musicians and musicologists of the present and the past whose modicum of interest has either long since evaporated or will soon disappear in a few years or even months is awe-inspiring in its breadth. This is heightened by the ambition of the new edition to be up to date, to include recent trends, so many of them clearly unpromising—but who knows, after all, what posterity may find stimulating? Alongside the ephemeral present, The New Grove rightly preserves the memory of the once fashionable but now insignificant darlings of the past.

Everything in the universe is, I presume, potentially interesting when seized from the right angle, but all too often an encyclopedic dictionary must simply record the data without indicating where any interest might possibly lie. It is unfair, of course, to judge a specialized encyclopedia by riffling through the pages, particularly one that reads in part like a union directory to the present state of the profession of music history. One will properly consult The New Grove from time to time only for a single article, to look up a date, to check a reference. Going through it to see how it has been revised and improved is less like entering into a historical museum of music than into a musicological flea market in which a few treasures are hidden away under immense piles of bric-a-brac. So many articles represent the jetsam washed up by the millennial ocean of music history; and the detritus has only been increased by the new lists and bibliographies, more copious and more useful than before.

Some of the new articles are triumphs. Elaine Sisman’s “Variations” will be the definitive treatment of a major musical form for many years to come; its forty-two large double-column pages amount to a small book (although I think that the Brahms-Handel variations are more indebted to Beethoven’s Eroica variations than to his Diabelli set, as she has it). Andrew Bowie’s contribution on Romantic aesthetics to “Philosophy of Music” is equally satisfying (perhaps Johann Wilhelm Ritter’s Fragments of a Young Physicist should have been mentioned, since his assertion that not only is music the original form of speech, but that everything spoken is accompanied by an inner song, was repeated by E.T.A. Hoffmann in his Kreisleriana, and was therefore known to Schumann). David Fanning’s welcome new version of “Expressionism” is more cogent than the previous one of Arnold Whittal.

James Webster’s “Haydn” is so good that one does not regret the disappearance of the article from the previous edition by the great Jens Peter Larsen. Nicholas Temperley’s “Chopin” of 1980 was already an improvement over the account in earlier editions of Grove’s, but Kornel Michaelowski and Jim Samson’s is still better. John Daverio’s “Schumann” is considerably more satisfying than the earlier accounts, and Anthony Hicks replacement of Winton Deane’s elegant “Handel” is fine throughout, well balanced and critically distinguished, as is Roger Parker’s new “Verdi.” Robert Winter’s “Schubert” is as brilliant as one would expect, although more space should, I think, have been devoted to the song cycles. The new “Brahms,” by George Bozarth and Walter Frisch, is an immense improvement on the old article—but why, in the extensive work list and bibliography, is there still no list of the works of other composers that Brahms edited? The text tells us, for instance, that he edited Chopin, but not that he was responsible for his ballades, sonatas, and mazurkas. Since he was an excellent editor (the mazurkas were the best edition before the new Polish critical edition which just came out last year, since Brahms respected the source he had available), readers should be informed, particularly when one considers the extensive bibliography accorded to so many scholars of lesser competence than Brahms included in The New Grove.

Political correctness has had a beneficial influence in the fuller representation accorded to non-Western musics, one of the most important improvements of the new edition, but it has had an influence as well on the article “Exoticism,” which concentrates almost as much on fashionable theory as, in a way, on the history of the importation of music from exotic climes into European style. I learned from it that Benjamin Britten used gamelan style to “signal homosexual desire.” Did he do so successfully, I wonder—that is, do members of the audience feel or recognize stirrings of homosexual desire when they hear the gamelan style in Britten? “Sex, Sexuality” by Jeffrey Kallberg, and his “Gender” as well, are succinct and persuasive, free from special pleading, and make a case for the importance of these subjects in modern study, and Kallberg is not as defensive as Ruth Solie is in her otherwise excellent “Feminism.” The latter subject is allotted double treatment, as it has made its separate way into the article called “Musicology.”

In an article in The New York Times of January 21, 2001, James R. Oestrich awoke the indignation of Stanley Sadie, editor of The New Grove, by claiming that my review of the 1980 edition in these pages was responsible for many of the revisions.2 In a letter to the Times, Sadie insisted that what he called my “animadversions” had nothing to do with any of the changes.

It is only fair to set the record straight: Sadie is perfectly right. As far as I can see, my review can have had no effect on the editorial policy of The New Grove. For example, I pointed out twenty years ago that the article “Characteristic [character-]piece” misleads the reader into “the polar opposite of the original meaning.” The term “characteristic” here does not mean typical, as The New Grove thought, but signifies a work of individual and unorthodox character. It is not clear to me whether Sadie was claiming that he paid no attention to criticism in general or just to my criticism, but in any case his proclamation of editorial independence was fully justified. Here in the newly revised New Grove is the article “Characteristic [character-]piece” reprinted in all its glorious idiocy.

In my review I quoted two examples of the various foolish statements in The New Grove. Let me quote another one for its documentary value:

Schumann gave the subtitle 18 Characterstücke to his Davidsbündlertänze op. 6. His use of the term there perhaps refers to the characters of Florestan and Eusebius [the two pseudonyms that Schumann used on the title page in place of his own name]: the pieces bear the initials of one or the other (sometimes both) and are accordingly either passionate or meditative.

The eighteen pieces are called Characterstücke because they each have an individual character, not because they illustrate two sides of Schumann’s personality: they are what the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries traditionally called characteristic music. Schumann’s Sonata in F-sharp Minor is also signed on the title page by Florestan and Eusebius; it is not, however, a characteristic piece, but an orthodox—or semi-orthodox—sonata without a program. (Symphonies and sonatas with a program, like Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony or Les Adieux Sonata, were called characteristic symphonies or sonatas.) The attempt to create a basically unique character and form for each piece was one of the central ideals of the period.3
(Many other small articles, equally mistaken, have been left uncorrected in the new edition.)

Important contributions have not always been newly commissioned, but sometimes only revised—or, on occasion, merely tinkered with—either by the original author or by a second party called in to help. In one case, recourse to a new scholar has resulted in a resounding success. The article on Beethoven by Alan Tyson and Joseph Kerman, one of the most admirable in the 1980 edition, has been brought up to date by the Princeton scholar Scott Burnham (with, I understand, the help of Kerman). More important, Burnham has added a long and brilliant section of nine columns, “Posthumous Influence and Reception,” outlining the creation of the mythical figure of Beethoven, his influence on music and musical thought, and his political reception. This superbly extends the original article.

It also reveals the unfortunate lack of editorial policy. There seems to have been no guiding control about what should go into a biographical article. Some have many musical examples; others have none (the excellent notice of Domenico Scarlatti of 1980 with many musical examples has been replaced by an excellent one with none at all). Some end with an account of the reception of the composer’s work and his influence after his death: others omit any mention of the subject. This is particularly unfortunate in the case of Johann Sebastian Bach, who, perhaps even more than Bee-thoven, is the most influential composer in the history of Western music. The editors may think they have covered the posthumous reception of Bach with the article “Bach Revival,” but this is parochially confined to England, Germany, and Austria, and is concerned only with the history of performance and stops at 1870. The development of the performance of Bach in the twentieth century, crucial to an understanding of serious music in our time, goes absolutely unmentioned.

Even more serious is that the influence of Bach on composers from Mozart to Saint-Saëns to Schoenberg and Stravinsky, basic to the history of music, is only a vacuum in The New Grove.4 The fundamental role of Bach in music education from Beethoven to Boulez does not exist for its editorial board. The interference of the editors with the contributors’ work may have been often exasperating (stories about this are legion), but it seems also to have been capricious, unmotivated by any coherent policy. That is why there is no authoritative voice in The New Grove: what distinction the dictionary has, and it is sometimes considerable, comes almost entirely from the independent individual authors.

There is an excellent new article on Richard Wagner by Barry Millington, replacing a hybrid of 1980 in which the life was written by Curt von Westernhagen and the aesthetics and music were left to the distinguished Carl Dahlhaus, now unfortunately deceased. The new version of the life is very welcome, and Millington’s account of the music is interesting and persuasive. However, the twenty pages of Dahlhaus’s essay on the music were among the half-dozen most distinguished entries in the previous New Grove, and some of the finest writing on music of the past half-century. To give an idea of what is now missing, I quote two extraordinary paragraphs on Die Meistersinger:

An active element in the plot of Meistersinger is the conflict between musical conservatism and innovation, represented respectively by Beckmesser who, as a caricature of a critic (more precisely, of Hanslick), is endowed with the attributes of envy, sterility and the inability to understand anything new, and by Walther von Stolzing, the “natural genius.” This contrast becomes confused in the musical realization. It is true that Beckmesser’s creative efforts—the serenade and the mangled Prize Song—are given some of the obvious characteristics of outmoded musical practices: mechanical coloratura, modal melodies and perfunctory accompaniments.

On the other hand, Stolzing’s songs are anything but “new” music. They are lyrical, in the form of “infinite melody,” but in the second half of the nineteenth century “new” music was not lyrical but “characteristic,” and the supreme example of stylistically advanced, characteristic music in Meistersinger is the pantomime for Beckmesser, the traditionalist, in the third act. Wagner as a dramatist may have had the idea of furnishing Stolzing, as the representative of musical progress, with the kind of music that was recognized as progressive in the mid-1860s, but as an experienced man of the theatre he knew better: his triumphant heroic tenor needed music that would have an immediate appeal for the audience, who would identify with the crowd on stage.

With the disappearance of these observations went the last trace of evidence that anyone connected with The New Grove had any idea what characteristic music was.

Millington does not remark on the contradiction between Walther von Stolzing as a representative of the avant-garde and the conservative style of the music given to him. He does take up, like Dahlhaus, the music of Beckmesser and the third-act pantomime:

The irregular phrase lengths, false accentuations and disorderly progress of the Serenade depict Beckmesser’s agitation and supposed artistic sterility, and should not be regarded as symptomatic of an “advanced” musical style (unlike the Act 3 “pantomime” in Hans Sachs’s study, which does look to the future in its graphic musical pictorialism).

This is certainly judicious, although Wagner and his more sympathetic contemporaries must have enjoyed the disorderly rhythms of Beckmesser’s serenade just as Mozart must have enjoyed all the dissonances and mistakes of composition in his Musical Joke. Stylistic progress is often first accomplished by introducing the radical innovations as if they were not really serious; the Romantic play of subjectivity first appears in the comic tricks of Tristram Shandy. But what does Millington mean by Beckmesser’s “supposed artistic sterility”? There can be nothing supposed about it: Beckmesser is not a real person slandered by Wagner even if he was at first conceived as a caricature of the critic Hanslick (who was not exactly artistically creative), but ultimately a creation of Wagner. If Wagner portrays him as artistically sterile, then that is what he is. Yet if not as profound as Dahlhaus, Millington is always interesting. There is, however, less about the music in the new article than in the old, and far too little about the Ring cycle.

There is an important contribution from Richard Taruskin: a new article on “Nationalism.” This has the brilliance we have become accustomed to from this critic at his best, presenting many of the different nationalist movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, following Willi Appel’s view of musical nationalism (but considerably refining Appel’s thesis) as protests against the hegemony of German style. The presentation of the Slavic and Bohemian movements is powerful, concise, and illuminating, and the relation of these to the development of American nationalist style is particularly subtle. The article is deeply flawed, however, by the astonishing omission both of the Spanish tradition and of the attempt to establish a Hungarian national style before Bartók, as well as by an underestimation of French nationalism before the nineteenth century.5

Taruskin persuasively writes:

Nationalism should not be equated with the possession or display of distinguishing national characteristics—or not, at any rate, until certain questions are asked and at least provisionally answered. The most important ones are, first, who is doing the distinguishing? and second, to what end?

He does not, I think, measure the complexity of these questions, or the difficulty of finding answers. He shrewdly remarks about the creation of an American nationalist style:

It is all the more noteworthy then, if ironic, that the first composer to achieve a style that plausibly represented a generic “America” to classical music audiences both at home and abroad should have been Aaron Copland (the pupil of a Dvorák pupil, Rubin Goldmark), a left-leaning homosexual Jew thus triply marginalized from the majority culture of the land. The style he created for this purpose …was deeply influenced by the music he heard during his later student years in Paris as the pupil of Nadia Boulanger, in particular the “neo-classical” music of Stravinsky.

This is perceptive and exact, but Taruskin fails to note that this ironic alienation is part of the normal process in the creation of a nationalist style. For example, the first great poet of Swiss dialect poetry, Johann Peter Hebel, lived in Germany for most of his life, and no longer even spoke his native dialect when he wrote his path-breaking poetry in it; the original creators of Irish national style—Bernard Shaw, Yeats, and Lady Gregory—were all from the Anglo-Irish minority, which was, however, the class in power, but which came to represent a generic “Ireland” to readers at home and abroad; the Catholic James Joyce composed in Trieste and Zurich his masterpiece of Irish literature; the first composer to use Spanish folk elements in instrumental music was the Neapolitan Domenico Scarlatti. That is why Nadia Boulanger and Stravinsky in Paris were more important for Copland than Rubin Goldmark.

Throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century the French were the pioneers in the creation of exotic foreign musical idioms: we have the examples of Bizet, with his oriental and Spanish styles; Saint-Saëns, with an Egyptian Piano Concerto; and Lalo with the Norwegian Fantasy, the Russian Symphony, and the Symphonie Espagnole for violin and orchestra. These could be dismissed as mere exoticism, not nationalism, but they eventually became the foundation for the nationalistic style of Spain. Not, however, through a Spanish composer, but principally through Debussy, who never went to Spain and was inspired by flamenco singers and dancers in Paris and postcards. Debussy needed no Spanish folk themes: he used only Spanish rhythms and fragmentary Spanish motifs with which he could create a wholly original work. “He taught us how to write Spanish music,” declared Manuel de Falla. (The other major Spanish figure, Albéniz, composed in a style derived almost entirely from the French salon genre of Chabrier and others.)

In short, Spanish nationalist style was created mostly by marginalist outsiders working within a picturesque genre. As for the Slavic tradition, the most astonishing aspect of Taruskin’s article is the omission of Moussorgsky, the most authentically Russian of all for many music lovers. (Why was Taruskin’s superb article on Moussorgsky for The New Grove Dictionary of Opera not incorporated into the revision before us?) Moussorgsky was also the most influenced by the French tradition, with his first opera on Flaubert’s Salammbô, and the obvious model of Berlioz for A Night on Bald Mountain.

Taruskin himself remarks that “Glinka, Balakirev, Rimsky, and the rest, when writing in a folkloristic idiom, sought only thematic material in peasant music, as an academic painter might choose a subject from peasant life, and subjected it to an artistic treatment that was, as we have seen, basically (and increasingly) ‘German.’” Taruskin claims that Stravinsky was the first Russian composer to use folk music, “and the only important one,” in order to free himself from academic routine. He accomplished this, of course, while he was living in Paris. Even with little borrowing from folk music, Moussorgsky had attained this freedom in his original declamation derived from the rhythm of Russian speech, above all in the songs; and his influence on Debussy for the creation of an authentic French vocal style gave back to France what Moussorgsky had taken for the Russian tradition.

Hungarian style was in its origins equally nationalistic: after some brilliant essays by Haydn,6 the Hungarian rhapsody was created by the non-Hungarian Schubert. (Liszt’s first attempt at the Hungarian rhapsody was to arrange for the two hands part of Schubert’s long Hungarian Divertissement for four hands.) The Hungarian style informs many other works of Schubert—the finales of the Grand Duo and the Cello Quintet, the slow movements of the C Major Symphony and the E-flat Major Piano Trio—and Brahms was to continue the tradition with many works. Hungarian style was not politically nationalistic, since the Austro-Hungarian Empire was a patchwork, and Germany had no national unity, but this is quibbling: it clearly functioned as cultural nationalism. Liszt’s rhapsodies represent a more restricted, localized pride, and the famous czardas in Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus has an obviously patriotic character, although still acceptable in an Austrian comedy.

For Haydn, Schubert, and Brahms, the Hungarian idiom was a way of relieving the grandeur of the serious forms, and affirming a semi-Germanic identity through a Romantic identification with a home-grown peasant style that was an integral part of Austrian culture with no tinge of outside influence—that is, it was exotic without being foreign. Unlike the waltz, it was rural, earthy, not urban. Nationalistic styles from Dvorák to Copland have almost always had a pastoral character. With the movement for Hungarian political independence, Bartók was to give new vigor to Hungarian pastoral, his evocation of peasant life partly inspired by Debussy’s use of French and Spanish folk motifs, and above all, as Taruskin observes, by the example of the new style that Stravinsky had developed in Paris—basically, in short, through techniques elaborated through the French tradition. In spite of these minor flaws, Taruskin’s article is provocative, lively, and distinguished.

The New Grove is not very good on pianists. It tells us that Moriz Rosenthal’s “acquaintance and friendship with Brahms began when the composer heard Rosenthal perform his Paganini variations,” but it began, in fact, when he listened to Rosenthal play Liszt’s fantasy on Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and invited him to perform the Paganini set. The New Grove says nothing about Carl Tausig’s important relation to Brahms. About Josef Hofmann, still considered by many as the greatest pianist of the twentieth century, we read “the popularity of his narrow repertory and free, Romantic style of performance waned considerably.” Born in 1870, Hofmann’s repertoire was immense (he once played twenty recitals in one season without repeating a piece), but he was slightly dyslexic: his repertory was learned by the time he was twenty, and he never played Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto, which was dedicated to him. (“Too many notes,” he said.)

Hofmann was certainly Romantic, but his rhythm was far from free: compared to pianists like Busoni, it was often almost metronomic. The problem with The New Grove is its policy of refusing to give a discography or to discuss recordings critically when they are occasionally mentioned in the text.7 In Hofmann’s records of 1923 (two Scarlatti sonatas in the Tausig arrangements, the gavotte from Gluck’s Alceste transcribed by Brahms, the Chopin Waltz in C-sharp Minor, the transcription of the “Magic Fire Music” from Die Walküre, and other works), the occasional sensitive rubato is enormously effective by being imposed on an almost absolute regularity. His recording of Liszt’s Second Hungarian Rhapsody is, in fact, so rhythmically exact in the opening pages as to be out of style, although still musically extraordinary (Liszt directs a capriccio, which implies a free rhythm that was evidently not to Hofmann’s taste).

The refusal to include a discography reaches the heights of absurdity with the treatment of jazz. Since most jazz is improvised unnotated performance, if you do not talk about recordings you are not talking about anything at all that can be documented. The omission of a critical discography for the most important jazz musicians is crippling. Even here the policy of The New Grove is comically inconsistent. To take two jazz pianists, a tiny discography is offered for Bill Evans, but none at all for the great Art Tatum. And there is none whatever—believe it or not—for Miles Davis (although a few lines notated of one of his improvisations is offered, without the harmonization which would make it completely intelligible). A discussion of some of the records in the text is no substitute for a proper list: the same respect should have been paid to the great jazz musicians that was given to the composers of classical music.

This will very probably be the last Grove’s Dictionary published between hard covers. It is difficult to believe that historians as distinguished as Taruskin, Kerman, and Lockwood will consent to do any important work for future revision that will appear only on the Internet. We must resign ourselves to what we have, and be thankful that some of it is of such high quality.

  1. 1

    Charles Nodier, “Le Bibliomane,” in L’Amateur de livres, edited by Jean-Luc Steinmetz (Paris: Le Castor Astral, 1993), p. 33.

  2. 2

    The New York Review, May 28, 1981.

  3. 3

    The New Harvard Dictionary of Music, in one volume, gives a longer article on characteristic music than the twenty-nine-volume New Grove, and it is an excellent account that fully recognizes the importance of the subject.

  4. 4

    The article on Bach’s son, Carl Philipp Emmanuel, ends with two brief paragraphs on his influence, but stops at 1800. The importance of C.P.E. Bach for Heinrich Schenker, one of the most important twentieth-century theorists, goes unremarked, and a revival of interest in his work today is also overlooked.

  5. 5

    The hatred of Italians in the mid-sixteenth century (inspired by the dislike of Catherine de Medici and the Italian influence at court) produced an attempt to purge the French language of all the fashionable Italian expressions. The domination of Italian painters and Italian art (Leonardo da Vinci, Giovanni Rosso Fiorentino, and Primaticcio all came to France at the invitation of François I) and the imitation of Petrarch by almost all poets was accompanied, as a corollary, by a violent nationalism in poetry and in art, above all in architecture. This naturally had its repercussions in music with the work of Claude le Jeune as well as Jannequin. It is impossible to deny the term of nationalism to this phenomenon.

  6. 6

    Mozart’s “Turkish” or “Janissary” music is largely Hungarian in character.

  7. 7

    There are, after all, bibliographies and work lists for François-Benoît Hoffman, Richard Hoffman, Jaromír Hoffman, Eucharius Hoffmann, Melchior Hoffmann, Richard Hoffmann (not to be confused with Richard Hoffman), and Lothar Hoffmann-Erbrecht (who is granted not only a bibliography but, unlike Brahms, a list of composers and works he edited).