The three-volume encyclopedia known as the New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments appeared in 1985, totaling just over 2,700 pages, weighing 12.8 pounds altogether. That was right around the time I was starting this organization called Experimental Musical Instruments, and I felt it my duty to put up the $350 to purchase it — far and away the most I ever spent on a book, before or since. I’ve never regretted that $350.
The musical instruments dictionary took its place in the tradition of Grove’s music encyclopedias beginning with the Dictionary of Music and Musicians edited by Sir George Grove in 1878. (For the latest incarnations, see Oxford Music Online.) Over the years the Grove’s dictionaries, including many offshoot publications on particular facets of music, have been seen as the foremost and most authoritative scholarly resources in their fields. The 1985 musical instruments dictionary has been no exception in this respect: it’s justly regarded as the final and exhaustive word in musical instrument scholarship. Even after a friend’s dog chewed part of the cover off of Volume I of my copy, it remained for me the first place to look for all things instrument-related. It became less central to my life only more recently with the simplicity and currentness of web searches.
Word has now come that for the first time in 25 years a new edition of New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments is on the way. The editor of the new version is the New York instruments scholar Laurence Libin. “Reflecting advances in scholarship during the past quarter-century,” he recently wrote, “the second edition will encompass a greater range of subjects in more detail, thus serving a larger community of readers worldwide.” In the 1985 edition, most of the articles on conteporary instruments were written by Hugh Davies. And a very large number of articles it was … I often marveled at what a huge amount of work his contribution represented. Sadly, Hugh passed away in 2005.
I’ve seen no date for publication of the new edition … perhaps not surprisingly, since such a work is likely to take a bit of time to prepare. But it’s something to celebrate.