In response to:
The Musicological Marvel from the May 28, 1981 issue
To the Editors:
You have already assigned generous space to The New Grove with Charles Rosen’s perceptive and illuminating review [May 28] and two exchanges [July 16 and August 13]. But a few points remain where your readers may be left with an imperfect understanding of the content and the philosophy of the Dictionary unless provided with a little clarification. I offer it in numbered points.
- I hope no one would infer, from the proportions of the review, that nearly half The New Grove is devoted to nineteenth-century music and most of that to Schubert and Verdi. The music of the Baroque, the Renaissance and the Middle Ages is much more fully considered than in any previous dictionary, and the discussion of non-Western and folk music is substantial (for example, vol. 9—covering Iacobus to Kerman in 877 pages—has 97 pages on India and 63 on Indonesia). The dictionary is illustrated.
- The reason there is no article “Music” is not that “the editors think that they and everybody else know what music is and what ‘music’ means”; rather it is the opposite. It was possibly a little harsh of Mr. Rosen to taunt us for complacency. Is there anyone with command of a sufficiently broad cultural spread to write such an article?
- I wonder whether it is quite true, as Mr. Rosen suggests, that “fundamental axioms” are not being questioned in musicology. Readers might refer, in this context, to passages in such entries as “Composition,” “Folk Music,” “Melody,” and “Notation.”
“Every minor musicologist receives a relatively full bibliography of his articles and books.” Not “every minor musicologist” is entered; if he were, the number of them would be many times greater. Almost none, as the Introduction makes clear, has more than a highly selective list of publications appended to his entry.
Mr. Rosen suggests that we take too little account of the needs of the “common reader,” exemplifying this by the “Gavotte” entry and the use of “pertichini” and “rocket.” Not many people need to be told what are the characteristics of a “rocket”; nor should anyone with a good Italian dictionary need to have “pertichini” defined. I agree that the “Gavotte” entry does not give a snappy definition, such as a one-volume dictionary might carry, of what “most musicians today think a gavotte is;” but it does give rather a full account of what a gavotte actually is and has been.
Mr. Rosen comments that our list of contributors does not say what each one wrote. Other reviewers have made the same point; but I wonder if this requirement is not largely restricted to reviewers who want to find the contributions of their favorite (or least favorite) writers, and irrelevant to the needs of the common reader. Very fairly, Mr. Rosen draws attention to our customary listing of the main articles by any particular writer in that writer’s own entry; Professor Robert L. Marshall’s authorship of the “Chorale” entries, to which he refers, are so cited.
Mr. Rosen notes that the article “Ornaments” is restricted to the Baroque era (by which he surely means the Baroque and Classical eras, for late eighteenth-century authorities are much cited). The article ranges as far back as the Buxheim Organbook (c. 1470), Buchner (c. 1520), Ortiz (1553) and the English virginalists, and forward to Beethoven, Spohr, Chopin and García (1840). The bulk of it however is devoted to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and in my view that is proper. He interestingly mentions that “rubato” is not included there, although occasionally cited as an ornament by early theorists. But that was never a common viewpoint; few if any of the more important theorists reckoned rubato as an ornament or discussed it in a context with other ornaments, and it is not now commonly regarded as one. The preamble to the “Ornaments” entry makes clear that ornaments are defined, much as in all other major dictionaries, in terms of the formulae used for embellishment; to include rubato would have opened the door to other devices of musical expression, such as dynamic gradation and articulation (which, like rubato, are dealt with elsewhere).
While on the subject of expression, may I mention—without entering into Mr. Rosen’s debate with Roger Scruton [August 13]—that, whatever the propriety of excluding historical discussion from Dr. Scruton’s essay, his section (“II. The nature of musical expression”) is preceded by “I. History of the concept of expression,” by Nancy Kovaleff Baker.
Referring to our entries on certain major cities (Paris, New York, Vienna), Mr. Rosen says they seem “to have been written by Chambers of Commerce.” Lest your readers think they include advertisements or untoward claims, I would point out that these are largely historical articles, written by music historians; each aims to give an account of, and context for, the city’s musical life and institutions.
In his second attack [August 13] on Andrew Porter’s distinguished “Verdi” entry, Mr. Rosen takes up the suggestion made by Professor Edward T. Cone that the reference to “relative minor” was due “to an interfering and misguided subeditor.” That is not so. The word “relative,” which appeared in Mr. Porter’s typescript, is clearly a slip, as the context Mr. Rosen quotes makes clear. (Nor did an editor, as he suggests, exclude material on Schubert’s choral music.) I might add that the dichotomy, even hostility, to which he refers between historian and theorist, and the mutual ignorance of each other’s subjects, are almost unknown in Great Britain where history and theory are studied conjointly.
In the postscript to his review, Mr. Rosen says that we rejected his “Sonata forms” entry “mainly as too speculative.” I am sure that neither he nor I would wish again to traverse this heavily trodden ground; and indeed I take pride and pleasure in the fact that my decision led to his producing a valuable and stimulating book on the subject. I should however record that we rejected his article for quite other reasons, itemized in a long letter to him; nowhere does the word “speculative” (or any synonym for it) appear in our prolonged correspondence on the matter.
Finally, may I express my surprise at your printing a review containing, as Professor Webster pointed out in his letter [July 16] many spelling errors? I could add two (one of them Greek) to his list. Mr. Rosen’s response—that he corrected proofs in an aeroplane—must represent the only occasion when the height of arrogance could be measured by an altimeter.
The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
Charles Rosen replies:
A few years ago, when I was rehearsing a Beethoven concerto with a French orchestra, the conductor stopped and remarked amiably to the musicians, “One of the violins played an F instead of an F sharp.” At once, two-thirds of the string section pointed at one cowering violinist, and said, “C’est lui! c’est lui!” (“He did it!”) The Grove office is rather like that orchestra. Dr. Sadie is at pains to insist that Mr. Porter himself made the error. With such an editor who needs reviewers? It has not occurred to Dr. Sadie that if the mistake was so “clearly” a slip, he and his staff owe Mr. Porter and the public an apology for not catching it.
In fact, Dr. Sadie is not completely candid. The mistake appeared in the final typescript, but Mr. Porter has assured me that the original draft was correct, and Dr. Sadie has admitted to me that this draft was seen and edited by his staff. In view of the complaints of several distinguished musicologists about the irrelevant and mistaken interference with their texts by the Grove office, the chances are very great that the error was made in that office. Indeed, the last time I saw Dr. Sadie, I pointed out to him a misleading use of the term “rounded binary form” in his article on Mozart, and he replied indignantly that he never used the expression; it appears that not even the editor-in-chief’s text was safe from the hands of the subeditors.
Dr. Sadie’s remarks about my “Sonata Forms” entry are similarly disingenuous. Of course his criticisms were more specific than “too speculative” and, equally obviously, I did not find them cogent. I stand by my account as correct. I thought “too speculative” covered it nicely—too adventurous and original from my point of view, too dubious and lacking in solidity from Grove’s.
Dr. Sadie’s first and third points are well taken: I ought to have called attention to the wealth of ethnomusicological information now made available, and I should have praised two of the four articles he mentions in point 3. I enjoyed the last sentence of his letter which has real bite and style. An editor who printed a detailed entry on a nonexistent Scandinavian composer (his name compounded of two railway stations outside Copenhagen) is not, however, well placed to reproach anyone with spelling errors.
The other points raised have no merit. For example, a rocket theme (according to the definition in Grove whose volume and page number the editors refuse to divulge to the public) is “a rising triadic theme in equal note values.” I can see that knowing what a rocket is might make you guess the “rising” part—but “triadic”?—“equal note values”? Points 2, 7, 8, and 9 are particularly feeble.
Dr. Sadie’s dictionary does not need his defense. My criticisms of certain aspects of it will be forgotten in a few weeks by everybody except Dr. Sadie, while musicians and music-lovers will continue to use the New Grove gratefully and admiringly—with some reservations—for years to come.
December 3, 1981