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Bakers Biographical Dict. of 20th Cent. Classical Mus. (1 Vol) Hardcover – January, 1997
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From Library Journal
Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians first appeared in 1900 and was written and edited by the amazing and recently departed Slonimsky since 1958. It is now considered one of the most important single-volume reference works in music. The eighth edition (LJ 1/92) weighed in at more than 2100 pages and pushed the envelope in terms of both size and coverage. Each new edition was faced with decisions not only of whom to add but also of whom to delete. Sporadic coverage of persons in jazz and pop music complicated matters as well. This title is the first in a planned series of ten works that should go a long way toward resolving these problems by splitting up the vast scope of original work into more manageable units defined by periods and genres. Coverage here is sharply limited to contemporary classical musicians, making possible the addition of 500 new entries. Also, existing entries have been revised, updated, and expanded (some significantly), and most works lists are now complete. In all, more than half of the text is completely new, much of it written by Slonimsky before his death; the entire work was edited by long-time Slonimsky collaborator Kuhn. The first in a promising series, this is an essential purchase.?Michael Colby, Univ. of California, Davis
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
This work is a spin-off of the well-known and prestigious Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, first published in 1900, of which the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth editions were all edited by Nicolas Slonimsky. He died in 1995 at the age of 101, making the eighth edition [RBB F 1 92] his last. Kuhn, who worked with him on the eighth edition, states in her preface that this is the first of "a series of specialized Baker's volumes, representing particularized musical periods and styles."
Entries are very similar to those in the parent volume. Some new musicians, such as mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli, violinist Sarah Chang, and bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, have been added. There are 500 new entries in all. There has been updating to make the volume current--for example, the works lists and bibliographies include 1996 publications, mention is made of Kathleen Battle's controversial dismissal from the Metropolitan Opera in 1995, and Slonimsky's death date is noted, as is that of Frank Zappa. What is Frank Zappa doing in a volume devoted to classical musicians? The editor states that pop and jazz artists have been "excised" from this volume, set aside for inclusion in future specialized editions; but one can still find entries here for David Byrne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and Andrew Lloyd Weber, among many others found in the parent Baker's but not usually thought of as "classical" musicians.
Slonimsky was noted for his unusual style, both humorous and opinionated, and the stamp of his personality (and idiosyncrasies) is retained in this volume. His famous style is especially apparent in the Glossary of Terms borrowed from his Music since 1900 and included in the present volume.
Since, according to the editor, the standard, complete Baker's will continue to be published, smaller libraries that own the eighth edition may just want to wait for the ninth. This new volume is recommended for all larger public and academic libraries and is essential, of course, for music libraries.
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Top Customer Reviews
I had bought this book mostly on account of what Laura Kuhn says openly in the Preface: "Entries contained in these pages are restricted to contemporary, classical musicians only, with complete work lists and carefully selected bibliographies" "Pop and jazz artists, idiosyncratically covered at best in previous editions of the Baker's, have been excised". In view of such statement of principles, I felt somewhat short-changed. In comparison with the Concise, there are many new articles - e.g. I had never found elsewhere entries for Kriukov or Pizzini, but conversely, there is no mention of composers perhaps better known than them, such as Glenn Branca or Peggy Coolidge. In addition, I was surprised and outraged when I found that some contemporary composers appearing in the Concise had been deleted! Examples: Frederick Cowen, Alberic Magnard, Mikolajus Ciurlionis. I could not found one valid reason for their exclusion.
The coverage of film music composers is quite irregular. While there are plenty of entries for film-only composers such as Elmer Bernstein or Alfred Newman, there is no mention of some of the most well known names such as Goldsmith, Barry, or Delerue.
In relation to the amount of information, too many of the entries are identical to the Concise Baker's, not having been revised, corrected or expanded. And about the pretence of "complete work lists", check for instance Roslavetz or Ivanovs, whose lists of works are far from exhaustive. Ivanovs is said to have written 20 symphonies rather than 21 and only two of his five symphonic poems are mentioned. The "selected bibliography" consists, in this case, of two books, the most recent being over 30 years old.
As to the excision of pop and jazz artists, a cursory check shows the presence of entries for Charles Aznavour, Jacques Brel, George Brassens, Miles Davis, Frederick Loewe, Alan Jay Lerner, Michel Legrand, Bobby McFerrin, none of whom is credited with any "classical music" accomplishment.
The articles are sometimes idiosyncratic. For example, reading about Penderecki, there is no mention whatsoever of his Post-modernist about face in 1977, although perhaps this suggests that the article has not been revised after that fact.
Kuhn explains in the Preface how a biographical dictionary is a means to invent history: "Giving some room to some, more room to others, ignoring the rest - displaying in both what is included and what is not both the ignorance and the prescience of its compilers". She mentions length of the entries as the first in the list of compiler's resources. Using this as a measure of importance in Kuhn's view, we can see what are the most important composers of the 20th century. What is your guess for No.1? Debussy? Schoenberg? Stravinsky? Bartók? Webern? Wrong. By a wide margin, her choice is Cage, to whose description by Slonismky she added "much beloved". Here is the ranking by the number of lines that she devoted to the most outstanding composers (excluding their list of works): 1. - Cage (426 lines) 2. - Stravinsky (293) 3. - Schoenberg (286) 4. - R. Strauss (187) 5. - Shostakovich (186). 6. - Debussy (184) 7. - Bernstein (167) Other composers that deserve more than 100 lines are Scriabin, Varèse, Vaughan Williams, Prokofiev, Ives, Sibelius and Barber. Bartók, at 99, does not quite make it. The length of Stockhausen's article equals David Raksin's.
In short, a good reference but a bit of a disappointment in the details.