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Five things you should know about Grove

By Jessica Barbour


There is a reference work on the subject of music to which English-speaking music students are referred every day. It has been around, in various editions, for over 130 years, and in its current online form it includes more than 40,000 full articles. As a 1955 article in Time put it, “For three-quarters of a century, the sun never set on Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians.”

When I was a music student, Grove Music Online (the expansive online version of the reference work) was the place my professors told me to begin looking for information, and I trusted their opinion. But I didn’t know a thing about how Grove had come to be in the first place, or when it first appeared on the web, or why it was called Grove. I just knew it as the first stop on my daily research commute.

Here are five cool things that, like me, you might not have known about Grove:

1.     The first edition was created by George Grove, a civil engineer. He was not a formally trained musician, but had high-level experience as a music writer and editor, and had a great passion for the field. In his correspondence he wrote that “while I live nothing gives me greater pleasure than to work for music!”

2.     The original version of the dictionary has four volumes, whereas the most recent edition has a whopping 29. (I have the sagging bookshelf to prove it.)

3.     Grove was also a leader in the founding of the Royal College of Music and was its first director. His role there and in the creation of the dictionary earned him a knighthood in 1883.

4.     Though referred to as Grove’s (an abbreviation of Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians) by many of its readers, its original title was simply A Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Replacing “A” with “Grove’s” in the title was a tribute by the editor of the second edition to the editor of the first, and the Grove name remained for all subsequent editions.

5.     While Grove Music Online includes articles from the most recent print edition and is updated three times a year, it also includes entries contributed by Grove himself in the 19th century. My favorite? Couac, a term defined by Sir George as “a sudden horrible noise to which any clarinet is liable,” and which anyone who has been in the vicinity of a beginning clarinetist will immediately appreciate.

Grove Music Online’s Editor in Chief, Deane Root, has written a new “History of Grove Music,” now available to anyone on the public pages of Oxford Music Online. It tells the story of how the dictionary was created and how it has changed over its lengthy (and ongoing) history.

Jessica Barbour is the Associate Editor for Grove Music/Oxford Music Online. You can read her previous blog posts, “Wedding Music” and “Clair de Supermoon,” or learn more about George Grove on Grove Music Online.

Oxford Music Online is the gateway offering users the ability to access and cross-search multiple music reference resources in one location. With Grove Music Online as its cornerstone, Oxford Music Online also contains The Oxford Companion to Music, The Oxford Dictionary of Music, and The Encyclopedia of Popular Music.

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Image credit: Portrait of George Grove courtesy of Grove Music Online. Please request permission for any reuse.

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