Classical Music Review: New Releases

Bakerís Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians. Schirmer Books, New York: 1997. Nicholas Slonimsky, Laura Kuhn, Dennis McIntire, editors. 1595 pages.

Nicolas Slonimsky produced four editions of Bakerís in his lifetime (1894-1995), and this new one, on the recently completed epoch, draws from that work as well as the findings of two new editors (and many assistants-informants) whoíve collated all this together. Itís also the first of a projected series of specialized volumes focussing on the musical styles practiced within different periods. This latest Bakerís is a must have for anyone involved in modern / contemporary music, and a treasure trove of fact and opinion. A unique reference work, it gives dates and places of birth, schooling and first performances (though rarely performers), and sometimes bibliographies of works by or about its musical subjects Ė things on or by Busoni, for example.

One gets a full bio of LA-based musical patron Betty Freeman, as well as informative and entertaining ones on central figures like Thomas Beecham. Overrated composers like Peter Maxwell Davies get full treatment, and seminal ones like John Cage get the space they deserve. Recently famous conductors like Valery Gergiev can also be found, though Bruce Ferden (1949-1993) and the still-living James Paul are left out. Dead film composers seem to rate entries over living ones, and Jerry Goldsmith, whoís in my 1988 Bakerís, gets dropped; a phrase in John Williamsí entry changes from "his own sparkling film scores" to "his own extraordinarily popular film scores," signaling no doubt a drop in intellectual value. All quibbles aside, this is a major work and very readable, too. An added bonus is a fascinating and wide-ranging glossary of 20th century trends and techniques.

-Michael McDonagh
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