What to learn from 'The New Harvard Dictionary of Music'

What to learn from 'The New Harvard Dictionary of Music'
W.A. Mozart

One of the new additions (editions, too) to my library recently is my father's copy of "The New Harvard Dictionary of Music," edited by Don Randel (Cambridge, Mass., The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1986), It was one of Dad's favorite reference books when anything musical came up -- and it got a lot of use.

But what's in it? Here's a small sample:

A is for Abgestossen. That's the German word for staccato.

B is for Ballad, but also for Ballade. "Ballad" is from the Latin ballare, to dance, but the definition after that origin begins "(1) A strophic narrative song." (Note to self -- there's the S to look up, strophic.) "Ballade," meanwhile, begins with a note that it's from French, then states "One of the three formes fixes popular  in the poetry and music of France in the 14th and 15th centuries. (There's the F to look up, too -- formes fixes.)

So I'm only in the Bs, and I'm hooked already.

Formes fixes turn out to be "A group of forms that dominated the secular poetry and music of France in the 14th and 15th centuries."

My friend and colleague Aquinas Wired, whose blog "The Quark in the Road" often features poetry, may be aware already that strophic can refer to either music or poetry. The Harvard Dictionary states, "(1) With respect to a poem, made up of units (strophes), all with the same number of lines, rhyme scheme, and meter. (2) With respect to a musical setting of a strophic text, characterized by the repetition of the same music for all strophes, as distinct from through-composed."

Yes, this is definitely a Serious book. It will be quite at home on my dictionary stand with other references -- not least because I keep my music stand for my cello-playing near there.

I'll see what else I can find inside. Watch this space!




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  • A: Implies the question why most music terms are Italian, instead of say, German. But then I wondered why both Italy and Germany had "opera." Maybe it is because Salzburg had both influences.
    B: The French derivation makes more sense to me. The dance one explains ballet, and the Spanish "baille."

  • In reply to jack:

    Hmm! Thank you for ideas on what to look up next.

  • In reply to jack:

    Jack, thank you. The entry for "opera" in the Harvard Dictionary of Music lasts for six pages, but the reason for both Italian and German having the word is that it's Latin in origin.

  • Great post! Thanks for sharing this wonderful book.

  • In reply to Weather Girl:

    You're welcome. It was one of Dad's favorites, so it will be fun to share what I find in it, as he liked to. He considered it the last word to settle any music-related question.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    I thought it was fine.

  • In reply to jack:

    Clever! "Fine," in the musical sense, is related to "final" -- the end.

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