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Sir George Grove (ed.)
A Dictionary of Music and Musicians

(London: Macmillan, 1879-1890)

Sir George Grove , A Dictionary of Music and Musicians Sir George Grove , A Dictionary of Music and Musicians

Among all the reference works in music, Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians has long held pride of place. The first edition was compiled under the leadership of George Grove (1820–1900), an extraordinarily versatile and energetic man. Grove began his career as a civil engineer, building lighthouses and bridges. He was the assistant editor of (and a major contributor to) William Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible. He organized concerts at the Crystal Palace in London and wrote extensive program notes for them; some of these program notes were eventually published in his book Beethoven and His Nine Symphonies. Grove founded the Royal College of Music and served as its director from 1883 to 1894. He was knighted in 1883.

Despite all these accomplishments, Grove is best remembered today for his Dictionary (published in four volumes between 1879 and 1890), which features contributions from many leading scholars and musicians, including Arthur Sullivan, Hubert Parry, Ferdinand Hiller, Alexander Wheelock Thayer, and Grove himself. More properly termed an encyclopedia, since many of its articles are lengthy essays rather than mere definitions, Grove’s Dictionary quickly established itself as the leading work of its kind in English.

Like all large reference works, it required revision almost immediately; it was soon supplied with an appendix, and new editions (now officially bearing the title Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians) appeared in 1904, 1927, 1940, and 1954. All of these preserved the character of Grove’s original, as well as a significant amount of its prose, so by the fifth edition, the Dictionary had come to seem somewhat old-fashioned and provincial in comparison with its more modern and professional German rival, Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, which began publication in 1949. The sixth edition (1980), called The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, remedied these shortcomings; it was written almost entirely from scratch by leading musicologists, and its scope expanded dramatically. The number of volumes increased from ten to twenty. The New Grove gave rise to a host of spin-offs, including multi-volume dictionaries of American music, musical instruments, jazz, and opera, as well as single-volume paperbacks devoted to specific composers and other topics. (The Grove brand was even extended to The Dictionary of Art and The New Palgrave: A Dictionary of Economics, which transferred its look and feel to completely separate disciplines.) The seventh edition (2001), officially called the second edition of The New Grove, will probably be the last to appear in print, for its contents soon appeared online. The electronic version enables faster revisions, as well as the continued expansion of a work that, at 29 volumes, was already dauntingly bulky. In 2004, Oxford University Press purchased the rights to the New Grove, and now offers it as part of a package called Oxford Music Online [access limited to Yale affiliates].

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