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Shoehorn; or a new Grove spoof article

The editors of Grove Music Online were pleased to learn recently that one of their favorite bookstores, the Seminary Coop on the campus of the University of Chicago was running a contest to write the best Grove spoof article. The prize? A set of the 1980 paperback New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. The winner, Brad Spiers, a graduate student in History and Theory of Music at the University of Chicago, has done an excellent job at both reflecting Grove’s writing style and at cracking up the Grove editors. We hope you enjoy this excellent addition to the pantheon of Grove spoof articles.


(Eng. Schoying horne [Old English]. Fr. chausse-pied, Corne de chaussures. Ger. Schuhanzieher, Horn von Schuhen, Ventilschuhlöffel [valve shoe horn], Gleitschuh Horn . It. Calzascarpe, Corno di Scarpa).

Sturdy idiophone ubiquitous among dress shoe-wearing cultures. Rising to prominence during 15th century England, the shoehorn has today become one of the most widely used instruments in the world. This notoriety had led many scholars to suggest that the shoehorn stands as Britain’s crowning contribution to contemporary music culture. While Medieval and Renaissance shoehorns incorporated animal horns, hooves, and ivory, today’s instruments have adopted contemporary materials, including cheap plastic, glass, metal or wood.


1. Construction.

The modern shoehorn is comprised of three parts: (1) the horn, a curved piece of wood fitted to the performer’s heel, (2) the handle, which allows for the instrument to be gripped, and (3) the leading, a connective attachment holding together the horn and handle. This design allows the performer to more effectively leverage the heel of their shoe to maximize the surface area of both the sole and foot. While standard shoehorns typically measure from 15cm – 50cm (handle to horn), this design has been expanded indefinitely to meet the individual needs of the performers and their shoes.

2. Repertory.

Although writings about the shoehorn are extensive, the instrument’s surviving repertory is severely limited. Descriptions from the 19th century suggest that shoehorns were one an important part of many large-scale symphonic works, including Mahler’s eighth Symphony (“Symphony of a Thousand”), Wagner’s Ring Cycle, and Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, but many of these parts have been now lost. Perhaps the greatest remaining shoehorn compositions were written in the Austro-German lieder tradition, including seminal works by Franz Shoe-bert (1809-1847), Robert Shoe-mann (1810-1856), and Ludwig van Boot-hoven (1770-1816). The shoehorn also experienced a passionate revival during the early 20th century, prominently featured in post-tonal compositions by Arnold Shoe-nberg (1874-1951) and Dmitri Shoe-stakovich (1906-1975). Today, with much of these pieces lost, shoehorn performances persist mostly in improvisatory and vernacular traditions.


C. Dahlhaus: Das Zeitalter der Shoebert und Shoemann (Wiesbaden, 1980)
R. Heel-inger: Die Geschichte der Schuhanzieher anzieher (Berlin, 1988)
W. Pumps: The Inner Game of Shoehorning (Toronto, 1989)
B. Straps: Sole with a Capital S: A Cultural History of the Shoehorn (Chicago, 2004)

Bradley Spiers

Our congratulations to Mr. Spiers! You can read more about the history of spoof articles in Grove. You can read winners of Grove Music Online’s spoof article contests from 2013 (“Del Marinar, Stella.”) and from 2014 (“Fogger-Houndsmilk, George”). Look for the announcement of Grove Music Online’s next spoof article contest on the OUPblog in early 2016. Winners will be announced on – when else? – April Fool’s Day.

Featured image: Oberhausmuseum (Passau). Nativity (15th century) – detail: Shoe of Saint Joseph. Photo by Wolfgang Sauber. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Recent Comments

  1. Susan Kagan

    The erudition of the writer is remarkable–his grammar/spelling not equally so. At the risk of being pedantic, I call your attention to line 3 of the paragraph defining”Shoehorn,” where the writer has mistakenly used “lead” rather than “led” as the past of the verb “to lead.”

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