Academic journal article Canadian University Music Review

The New Grove Dictionary of American Music/America's Music: From the Pilgrims to the present/Music in the United States: A Historical Introduction

Academic journal article Canadian University Music Review

The New Grove Dictionary of American Music/America's Music: From the Pilgrims to the present/Music in the United States: A Historical Introduction

Article excerpt

H. WILEY HITCHCOCK and STANLEY SADIE, eds., The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, 4 vols., London: Macmillan, and New York: Grove's Dictionaries of Music Inc., 1986.

GILBERT CHASE. America's Music: from the Pilgrims to the present, revised third edition, Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1987.

H. WILEY HITCHCOCK. Music in the United States: A Historical Introduction, third edition, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1988.

"The main reason American musicologists do not work more with American music is because there is so brief a tradition of art music that can be taken seriously" (Kerman 1985: 39). This characteristically feisty pronouncement by a noted scholar could well refer to a similar attitude on the part of Canadian musicologists vis-à-vis their own music. One might call it the "great-musicit-ain't" attitude. The right to be taken seriously is accorded by its holders ultimately not just to a single composer, Beethoven, but to a single group of Beethoven works, the later quartets, and then to a single work among these, and finally to only one or two especially sublime bars. Clearly a great deal of other bars, pieces, composers' outputs deserve serious consideration and study, and one should not be obliged to describe them as "lesser." If musicology is a science, it is more relevant to ask of a given work "what is it?" or "what is it like?" than to ask "how good is it?" On this continent, the attitude becomes less and less tenable with the growth in both countries of wider awareness of the indigenous repertoires, and with a stronger and stronger body of scholars who have elected to study it, not because it is 'great' by the standards of the German classics, or because they do not appreciate those standards, but because indeed it exists and is theirs. Notably too, a smaller and smaller proportion of the repertoire is definable under the older eurocentric concept 'art music'

A brief personal reflection: this reviewer's classical upbringing in music has been profoundly broadened over the past quarter-century by the experience of teaching an undergraduate university course on the history of Canadian and U.S. music. The parallels between the two national developments are more frequent than the contrasts. In both countries the burgeoning of research and study materials since the middle 1960s is astounding: among the latest U.S. contributions, the fine New Grove Dictionary of American Music (subsequently referred to as NGDAM) has been closely followed by updatings of two standard surveys, all reflecting even stronger buoyancy and confidence in U.S.-music studies than we have formerly known - which of course is saying a lot.

NGDAM consists, the Preface claims, one-quarter of articles which originally appeared in the (British) New Grove of 1980 and three-quarters of newlywritten articles. NG's American cousin is, we are told, 'based on a different cultural model, of a more pluralistic character than that of Europe.' It aims to treat 'topics germane to the specific character of American musical traditions.' 'Ragtime' in NG, by William Bolcom, is a reasonably full account with a half-page bibliography of works in several languages; a new NGDAM article by Edward A. Berlin is double the length and more elaborately illustrated, but has a bibliography of references in English only. The co-editor, H. Wiley Hitchcock, contributes, among a remarkable number of original pieces, an article on Stravinsky, centring on the achievements of his U.S. years and in effect giving them what amounts to a newer, distinct assessment from that afforded by JVC's Stravinsky piece, despite the latter's greater length.

Canadian society is a mosaic, that of the United States a melting-pot: this cliché is illustrated by the contrast between the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada (Kallmann 1981) and NGDAM in handling music by immigrant groups. EMC provides entries for each immigrant group or ethnic minority under its own country of origin - entries on 'Armenia,' 'Pakistan,' 'Sweden,' 'United States of America,' and so on, treat both sides of musical exchanges between the territory in question and Canada, illustrated in terms of history, personalities, and repertoire. …

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