I have a shelf of books on one of my bookcases wherein dwell all my reference books. I have written about them earlier in a post here, and today I am delighted to be able to talk about yet another wonderful addition to my collection courtesy of Oxford University Press.
This is the Oxford Dictionary of Music and as I already have their guide to Opera and to Musicals I feel I now have the various genres well covered. I have said it before, but will say it again, that Google and other search engines are wonderful and marvellous and I would not be without them, but a real proper reference book is a thing of joy for ever.
This is a brand new edition, the sixth and in the preface one of the three editors, Tim Rutherford-Johnson, tells the reader that whereas previous editions focused on updating and increasing its coverage of performances, 'the present edition concentrates on contemporary composers and popular and non-Western music'. Being a bit of a stick in the mud when it comes to music, I was slightly worried by this but am assured that performers have not been neglected and hundreds of biographies have been reviewed and updated as well as those on orchestras, opera houses et al.
I have spent the last week or so since I received this tome opening pages at random and picking out entries for a casual reading, something I do with all such reference books, as the chance of finding out something in this serendipitous way which is interesting and fun, is a good one and of course this has been the case here. Looking up the letter C the page fell open at an entry for Isabella Colbran. Never heard of this lady and know nothing, but having read her entry I discovered that she was born in 1785 and was regarded as the finest dramatic colaratura soprano of her day. In 1811 she went to sing in Naples and became the impresario's mistress, probably a good career move. However she left him and, in 1815, married Rossini - an even better career move. Rossini wrote Elisabetta d'Inghilterra for her and she created the leading soprano roles in his Otello, Semiramide and others. She also sang in one of his lesser known works, La Donna Del Lago and I mention this because years ago when I worked for the London Borough of Camden and used to help out at their Arts Festival, they staged the first performance of this opera in this country with a very young, but quite wonderful new soprano - Kiri te Kanawa. Just thought you might like to know that....
Turn to D and we now find an entry on Gustavo Dudamel the Venezualan conductor who burst onto the London scene with the Simon Bolivar National Youth Orchestra at the Proms a few years back. I don't think I will ever forget the sensational evening they produced and the fun and cheering at the end of the concert. Great Stuff.
I had to look up Bryn Terfel of course but no particular wild happenings here - just a series of dates and successes which are seemingly endless and consecutive and long may it continue to be so. Having seen him back in 1989 at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition and making the prediction that he would make a superb Wotan in about twenty years time, I made the vow that when he did give his first performance I would be there. And he did and I was and it was incredible.
Of course, it is always interesting and fun to look up the superstars in a work like this such as Pavarotti, Carreras and Domingo, but we already know an awful lot about them and have seen them over the years, so it is the older entries that are of such interest such as the one I quoted above - Isabella Colbran. Once started on this exploration and an hour or two passes pretty quickly.
As with all books from the OUP stable, production values are high, smooth paper lovely to the touch, clear fonts and printing and an excellent cover. Appendix 1 is a quiz/crossword solver's dream as it gives directions and expression markings in French, German and Italian. Here are a few to wet your appetite:
- French - petit detache: staccato with the point of the bow for each note
- French - sur la touche: on the fingerboard, bow over the fingerboard
- German - Affektvoll: full of fervour
- German - Empfindung: feeling, sentiment
- Italian - Addolorato: grieved, in a saddened style
- Italian - Lusingando: flattering, play in a coaxing intimate manner
I could go on and on, reading some of these expressions out loud makes them sound quite beautiful.
Appendix 2 is a List of Abbreviations found in Musical Scores, many of which I am familiar with from my choir days D.C (da capo) being the one I always eyed with dislike, particularly if I was singing Bach, but we won't go there.....
I have only mentioned one editor but there are, in fact, three and the other two are Michael Kennedy who used to be chief music critic of the Sunday Telegraph and is an authority on English music of the 20th century, and the other Joyce Bourne Kennedy who I see is Mrs Kennedy and has assisted him in his work. Her book, a Dictionary of Opera Characters, was published in 1998 so a very musical household indeed.
A marvellous work and one final thing I must mention which certainly brings this must have reference book up to date, is that many of the entries have recommended web links. You go to the link at the OUP reference section, locate the entry in which you are interested and then click straight through to the relevant website. So you have the technical computer information alongside the printed word and, let's face it, that is the best of both worlds.
A superb book and I tremble to think of the months and years of work which have gone into this. I am most grateful, as ever, for Oxford University Press, for granting me the privilege of being able to review the Oxford Dictionary of Music.
Tag line on the front is from The Times "up to date and, frankly, indispensable'. No need to say more.....