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From opera, chamber music, popular music, musicals, and dance, to musical terms, time periods, venues, composers, conductors, performers, and instruments, all of our entries are written by trusted experts for researchers at every level, and are complemented by illustrative line drawings and images wherever useful.
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A list of abbreviations found in Musical Scores from The Oxford Dictionary of Music
Biography of Johannes Brahms from The Oxford Companion to Music
A chronology of musicals from The Oxford Companion to the American Musical
What would you say is the most unusual/obscure term in your subject area?
It would have to be an instrument, I think. The Oxford Dictionary of Music includes lots of examples from musical cultures around the world that are little known in the Western classical tradition, but I’m drawn to one in particular: the ‘crwth’, a stringed instrument from medieval Wales. It looks a bit like a cross between a violin and a giant mousetrap, and you play it with a bow, like you would a violin, but with one end of the instrument pressed against your chest (it can also be played held between your knees). References to the crwth can be found as early as the 11th century, but only four ancient examples survive, so it’s authentically obscure. I also like it for its name, which supports my theory that if you add enough entries to your dictionary eventually every starting sequence of letters will be possible.
Which historical events or figures featured in your dictionary have most influenced your study of your subject?
Although the dictionary covers music from all eras, my own specialism is 20th-century and contemporary music. Béla Bartók was the first composer whose music I fell absolutely head over heels for. A moment of revelation after listening over and over to his dissonant, noisy, and difficult Fifth String Quartet, when the shape of the thing suddenly fell into place, taught me much about the virtues of sticking with something that seems strange and unfamiliar at first, and set me on a path towards finding increasingly strange and interesting music. But encountering Olivier Messiaen’s music for the first time, aged 16, was an even bigger bolt from the blue. My school music teacher, an organist, brought in a score of Messiaen’s La nativité du Seigneur, plonked it on the piano and flipped it open to the last movement, Dieu parmi nous. I’d never seen so many notes in my life! He and I thrashed through it, me playing the pedal line in the bass of the piano, and I just thought it was the most exhilarating, extraordinary music I’d ever heard (and I was also a Nirvana fan at this time). Sadly, Messiaen had died only a few months before, so I never had the chance to see him in the flesh, but La Nativité convinced me that music by living composers was what I wanted to study more than anything.
Which figure in your subject’s history would you most like to invite to a dinner party? What would you ask him/her?
John Cage. As well as being the most revolutionary musical mind of the 20th century he was a superb teller of stories (many of them gathered in his first collection of writings, Silence), and I’m sure would be great company. He was also a keen collector of wild mushrooms and experimental cooker of them (with mixed results, as some of those stories attest), so I would be keen for him to bring some to try out on us. I would ask him about his study of Zen; how he came to use it in his music, and how his music, in turn, came to inform how he lived his life.
Cage had a gift for not taking himself – or anything around him – too seriously, but seemed to have mastered the art of embracing change on its own terms, no matter what happened. I would love to know his secret.
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