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Archives: August 2017

Wikipedia -The Free Encyclopedia vs. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians

A few weeks ago, former executive producer Steve Robinson (who makes a guest appearance in week two of “How Strange the Change”) asked Bill how these two encyclopedias compare:  Grove vs. Wiki.

Steve Robinson, Bill McGlaughlin (Photo: Charles Osgood)

As an Exploring Music Intern, I’ve learned just how much research goes into the production of each Exploring Music theme, and it’s a lot. Our host, Bill McGlaughlin, has even been known to max-out the checkout limit at the New York City Library. In Chicago, producer Cydne Gillard helps with Bill’s research and conducts research of her own in the WFMT music library. One of the EM team’s go-to resources is The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Not familiar with the Grove Dictionary? You’re not alone (I had to go to Wikipedia to look it up.)

Check out this exchange between Bill McGlaughlin and his old boss Steve Robinson.
-Abbey Edmonds.

Steve:  In general, how does Grove compare with Wikipedia? 

Bill:  No denying the tremendous value that devoted amateurs have brought to Wikipedia, but Grove Dictionary is in an entirely different league as far as depth, breadth and authority. To me it’s the difference between a highly skilled amateur orchestra and the Chicago Symphony. The amateurs are often highly informed and some of them are in fact authorities on their subjects, but I miss the uniformly high standard imposed by professional editors who are paying for their content and determined to produce the most reliable and informed source of specialized information.

Not that Grove is without the occasional problem. I recall when Charles Rosen delighted in taking apart Andrew Porter’s errors (gross in Charles’ estimation) in analyzing the harmonic language in his article on Verdi. Charles included this diatribe as part of his major New York Review of Books review of the New Grove. When Grove's formidable editor Stanley Saide complained to Charles and threatened to reply, Charles archly advised him to find another medium. “Stanley, send your complaint to the Times of London or the New York Times. If you put your complaint in the NYRB, I shall be forced to reply.” ‘Why that’s blackmail!” screamed Mr. Saide. “Do stop shouting, Stanley,” said Charles. “You know, I gave you the perfect paragraph stating that Grove Dictionary is the greatest musical encyclopedia ever produced. You know you will use that in your advertising.”

And so they do — to the present day. If you look on the back cover of the paperback edition.

" The heart of Groves's Dictionary was always in the long biographical entries on composers... a magnificent achievement." - Charles Rosen, New York Review of Books

Ah me. Intellectual sky-fighting. We mortals look up and see the tracers piercing the sky but we can’t even hear the gunfire.

But to answer the question, there’s no authority like Groves. - Bill


Abbey:  Want to read more intellectual sky-fighting? Here’s the link to the Rosen/ Saide exchange in the New York Review of Books.


Bill:  Here’s a quick Wiki word.

Stanley John Sadie, CBE (/ˈseɪdi/; 30 October 1930, Wembley – 21 March 2005, Cossington, Somerset) was an influential and prolific British musicologist, music critic, and editor. He was editor of the sixth edition of the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1980), which was published as the first edition of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians

Have a luvely weekend, y’all. -Bill

Steve:  My two cents.

As for Grove vs Wikipedia, I agree 100% with Bill. Wikipedia is a good resource, of course, and I use it several times a day (and I actually contribute money every year. That's quite a concept: paying for a free service. Where have I heard about that before?) but it's no substitute for the in-depth, scholarly articles one finds in Groves. (Then again, that's what Encyclopedia Britannica said. Remember them?)

Anyway, I hope you get in the Grove groove.
Onward.  -Steve

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