Monthly Archives: April 2005

“Dalton’s Weekly”: Michael Kennedy (ed.), The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music

One of the most useful reference works for music that we have is a 1985 edition of The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music, edited by Michael Kennedy. This manages to pack a huge amount of information into a paperback of 700-odd pages, especially when it comes to listing works by major composers. (To say nothing of entries on individual compositions, performers, instruments, organisations, terminology and so on). It achieves this by using abbreviations as much as possible without becoming unintelligible, for example ‘Comp. 2 vn. concs., str. qt., vc. sonata, etc.’ – hence our nickname for it*.

It has its idiosyncrasies too. In the composers’ biographies, it is regarded as almost essential to list the years in which they visited Britain (if they weren’t British already). On a more macabre note, the cause of death is usually given, when it’s known. But it doesn’t give precise dates of birth or death or reveal their embarrassing middle names, unlike one of the other musical dictionaries that we have.

A longer review would comment on surprising omissions. Allowing for the date of the volume (some composers or works have come into favour since, or simply weren’t around at all) I’ve found few and will cite only one here: no separate entry for Peter Grimes! (Eleven of Britten’s other operas have their own entries). But we wouldn’t be without this volume and it is particularly useful for settling discussions about when a particular work was composed: ‘Look it up in Dalton’s Weekly!’ is the refrain.

* Note for readers outside Britain: Dalton’s Weekly is a small-ads newspaper, where advertisers pay by the line. As a result the advertisements in it are heavily abbreviated in order to take up as few lines as possible.

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