Sunday, June 15, 2014

"Death by Encyclopedia"

The title is in quotes because I did not make it up.  The late Joseph Marx, oboist, chamber musician, and scholar extraordinaire, thus entitled a terrific piece of musicological research demonstrating that the authors of various 19th-century encyclopedias had merely cribbed the poor work of a forerunner, thus helping ruin the reputation of a composer who was actually quite good by mixing him up with someone else.

I wish to address a different manifestation of the same crime, this one a result of over-specialization.  Pianists seem to care only about piano works, conductors about symphonies, and so on.  In the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, therefore, the works of any given composer are divided into categories yielding not the smallest hint of the possible relevance of one genre to another.

In more than one case I have had to compile my own personal timeline, for Mozart and Beethoven, for example.  Wouldn't it make more sense to compile a time line of works according to key?  This would at least encourage curiosity about the relevance of one source of sound to another.