A new edition of a venerable text is an opportunity to make it worthy of continued veneration in a changing world. In 1980, we turned the Third Edition of Donald Jay Grout's A History of Western Music (HWM) from a one-volume history of music to a package of resources for teaching and learning that included a two-volume anthology and accompanying recordings. In my limited participation in that edition, I mainly contributed the brief analytical and contextual comments on the music of my then new Norton Anthology of Western Music (NAWM). The early music movement of the time, which gave birth to numerous professional and semi-professional ensembles, made hearing its varied and comprehensive repertory possible—even though we succeeded in obtaining only some licenses to the best performances for the accompanying recordings. But with each successive edition of NAWM the industry has responded more positively to our demands, and we now have some of the finest representative performances.
For the Fourth Edition (1988) of HWM I wrote extended commentaries on the Anthology selections and sequestered them in boxes where they would not interrupt the historical narrative. Donald J. Grout having sadly passed away in 1987 after a long illness, I thoroughly revised the first half of the book, profiting from the great progress made since 1960 in the study of medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque music. I integrated the bibliographies and the chronologies, previously located at the back of the book, with the content of the chapters. I also added "vignettes," in which composers, musicians, and observers comment characteristically and pointedly about the music of their time.
In the Fifth Edition (1996) the commentaries on the anthology selections migrated to NAWM. The convenience for those studying the scores and listening to the recordings made it a popular move. I rewrote much of the second half of HWM, taking advantage of the thriving scholarship of the 1980s and 1990s on the Classic and Romantic periods, and amplified coverage of the twentieth century. Altogether three chapters and part of a fourth now covered the last century, one of them, partly retrospective, devoted to American music. I restored the glossary, freshly rewritten, and indicated where the terms were used in the text. We added twelve color plates, illustrating parallel developments in the visual arts or showing music-making in its social context. The