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The Harvard Dictionary of Music.

The Harvard Dictionary of Music. 4th ed. By Don Michael Randel. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003. [xxvii, 978 p. ISBN 0-674-01163-5. $39.95]. Music examples, illustrations.

It is likely that most subscribers to Notes have by now purchased a copy of the Harvard Dictionary for themselves or their institution predicated on the longevity of the work and its deserved good reputation. The current edition, under the direction of Don Michael Randel, generally delivers what has come to be expected, and although there have been "numerous changes, including outright additions and deletions" (Preface), I have not found any significant gaps in coverage. The dictionary, for its thoroughness, remains remarkably concise.

I have not, and never will, read this work from cover to cover, but in my perusal I have checked on some fairly obscure terms from Renaissance music theory (e.g., "dux, comes"), dance forms ("Folia"), "course" (from lute, theorbo and other plucked stringed instruments), and whatever else occurred to me and found nothing lacking. I also checked terms in an aleatoric fashion from previous editions and found nothing missing in the new one. At 978 pages as compared to the previous edition's 942, I am relieved to find that there was apparently no need to cut significantly due to new additions, which I will discuss later. I suppose a specialist, and by that I don't mean a music specialist but someone with expertise in, for example, Japanese music or Baroque organ literature, might find the work wanting, but people of that stripe will likely have knowledge of more specialized sources for their needs. This remains a very good general dictionary of music, and at a price of about $40.00, it is an accessible tool for the student, small library, concert attendee, or professional musician.

As has been the policy since the first edition of 1944, the dictionary continues to exclude biography, so one can find an entry for "Schenker analysis" (p. 759), but not an entry for Heinrich Schenker, except in the context of the former definition.

In his preface to the Harvard Brief Dictionary in 1960, Willi Apel alluded to evolving developments in music, new ideas and terminology becoming established, followed by the need to address them (Willi Apel and Ralph T. Daniel, Harvard Brief Dictionary of Music [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966], pp. v-vi). I would add that continuing scholarship requires a periodic reevaluation of accepted definitions. This fourth edition is the second edited by Don Randal, the first entitled The New Harvard Dictionary of Music published in 1986. As Bruce R. Schueneman (Texas A & M University Library) points out in his review of the current edition for Library Journal, the article on leitmotif "seems to be a verbatim holdover from 1986" (Library Journal 129, no. 2 [1 February 2004]: 77). He goes on to point out that the origin of the term as stated in the Harvard Dictionary disagrees with that found in Grove Music Online (Web site accessed 24 November 2004). I leave the debate as to the origins of the term to Charlotte Greenspan, the author of the Harvard Dictionary article, and other specialists in German opera. I point out the criticism because it illustrates the subjectivity of musical terms and practices, and I would venture to say that, at least in some respects, it is likely that both sources are correct. Although it is useful--almost necessary--to have some type of scaffolding for historical purposes, it is obviously absurd to claim that the baroque period began immediately after the twelfth stroke of midnight, New Year's Day 1601. It is more often the case for a term such as leitmotif that a musical genre or practice evolves from consensus, conversation (perhaps overheard), or a general zeitgeist, and often only gains currency or general acceptance much later. So, is this discrepancy between two highly regarded reference works a flaw, an oversight, or is it the result of the nature of the subject matter? I am inclined to think the latter. Nonetheless, Schueneman's observation is undeniably astute.

On the subject of republication of material from one edition to the next, I do not think it is heinous in this context, but in consideration of the above criticism, the dictionary might benefit from a closer scrutiny of recycled articles. Reuse may be a measure to contain the cost of publication, or it may seem unnecessary to research terms that are well established (e.g., "Allegro"), but it would be a shame for a highly regarded reference source with an enviable publication history to degrade for lack of attention to detail and recent scholarship.

I work in a large, urban public library, and although there is interest in the classical canon, the interest in popular music of most types runs high. So, with considerable professional relief, I was happy to note not only an entry for "Rap" (pp. 704-05), but also for the sub-genre of "Hip-hop" (pp. 391-92) in my favorite quick reference source. It was only ten days previous to receiving my copy of the Harvard Dictionary that a rather conservative colleague from the Art Department who knows music well, and had been good enough to staff the Music reference desk when we were in desperate need, asked me, "What's the difference between hip-hop and rap?" Although I did my best with an analogy of rococo and baroque, she just was not buying it, and neither was I. I was truly at a loss for a good, succinct definition. It is said that to name is to know, but how much better it is to be able to define. So I am very pleased that the above-mentioned and other pop music terms have been included in the new edition. The styles may fade and become merely of historical interest to future generations (a good example might be "croon," which is defined here), or they may evolve and remain in the public consciousness, like jazz for example; in either event, a working definition is useful now, and appropriate for the future. Some popular music styles (and certainly many pop groups) are ephemeral in the extreme, but I think that any genre, term, or style that obtains a lifespan of twenty or thirty years is ripe for definition. If a definition may be unsatisfactory without the clarity of time, it can suffice as a working definition until sufficient perspective is achieved. It is not always fans of these genres who may want an authoritative, working definition of them. I dare say that fans may care less about definitions, being acquainted by experience with the music itself, but rather it is often those who lack familiarity yet are curious or need to know for other reasons, like my colleague and me.

It is inadvisable to indulge in polemic in any dictionary, and in spite of having commented earlier about the laudable concision of this one, I find that any discussion of rap music, and especially "gangsta rap" that does not include a mention of the glorification of violence and its effect on communities, is ignoring a sad but important aspect of the genre's dominant content. Rob Bowman, who wrote the articles on "Rap" and "Hip-hop" (also on "Music video" and "Reggae"), has done an admirable job of summarizing the genesis and histories of these. Nevertheless, his sentence "[a]gainst the backdrop of conservative political programs that were systematically decimating the inner city, rap functioned as a voice for a community without access to the mainstream media" (p. 705), seems to be entirely debatable; was there really no access to media in black or Hispanic communities in New York? Was it only conservative political programs that decimated the inner city? A comment such as this would be better eliminated, or if included really should be balanced.

A quotation from Chuck D., used in the same article, refers to rap as "CNN for black people," but it begs the question: which black people? For certainly James Brown, who was "lionized as [a] cultural hero" (p. 704) had something to say in the media about the misogyny and brutal violence propounded by some rap artists, although he seemed to quiet down when residuals from sampling of his songs were later forthcoming. I also think that many African Americans would not accept Chuck D. or rap music as their version of CNN no matter how often the phrase was quoted (as mentioned in Bowman's entry). Mr. Bowman's comments may apply to some, mostly young people, but not to an entire community. His bibliography, although thorough enough in some respects, neatly sidesteps the work by Ronin Ro, whose book Gangsta: Merchandizing the Rhymes of Violence (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996) discusses some of the social implications omitted in the Harvard Dictionary entry. (Ronan Ro has also written books on the influence of rap artist, Sean "Puffy" Combs, aka "Puff Daddy," and Death Row Records, a prominent record label in the genre.)

The Harvard Dictionary of Music remains, in spite of its minor flaws, a very strong, indispensable work that is taking a slightly new direction from editions past. It is approaching musical types and practices that are newer and less established than any that Willi Apel had to grapple with, and doing a heroic job of it. While deciding which types of popular music to include, the editors might have considered entries for "New Age," "Women's Music," or "World Music" simply because in time, these types may not be entirely apparent by name only. Nevertheless, there is time to record such minor influences before they fade from the collective memory, if they ever do.

Unlike a music dictionary, a review is very appropriate for an expression of opinion, and I hope to have my readers thinking about the implications of any definition in a work such as the one I am reviewing. It is not my intent to argue with contributors who probably know much more about their subject than I do, but to enjoin editors and users alike to remember that this is a work written by people. These are intelligent people, who in the course of their studies or experience, are informed and necessarily must have a considered point of view. It is very difficult and may be impossible to compile a work like this in an impeccably neutral fashion. Yet, the reputation of the Harvard Dictionary of Music and its status as a standard reference work imbues it with an enormous amount of power to influence thought on matters musical, and maybe some ideas that are extra-musical. If we remain cognizant of this power, we can, I think, be better at our profession and be, quite simply, better readers.


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Author:Szydlowski, Joseph
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 2005
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