Grove’s dictionary

Havergal Brian

Selected and annotated by Malcolm MacDonald

The casual reference above to Grove’s Dictionary set me thinking of the merits of that unique compendium of musical literature, compared to which all others — German, Italian, and American — are so many musical Bradshaws. ‘Grove’ is something not easily explained, for it gets there with the facts, and with it go charm and personality all the way. Those worthy succeeding editors have maintained the touch first laid on musical dictionary-making by Grove. His friend CL Graves wrote that his achievements were ‘all the more remarkable when it is borne in mind that in the strict sense of the words he was neither a scholar, a linguist, nor a musician but he had the genius of understanding.

They speak of the lack of proportion seen throughout the dictionary: it were a fault until we remember how very human it all is, reflecting the mind of Grove and that of the genuine English lover of music. The discovery of the genius of Schubert centres around the activities of Schumann, Mendelssohn and George Grove, but it was the latter who brought Schubert to the fuller understanding of Englishmen. Living in an age less frankly psychic and mystic than the present, he still had a deeply spiritual personality. Second sight or instinct took him in 1867 to Vienna, where in company with Arthur Sullivan he discovered the parts of the whole of the Rosamunde music.

This discovery awakened a new interest in England, and from that time forward, the Crystal Palace programmes leading the way, Schubert has been with us always. In 1880 Grove was again in Vienna, this time studying the Schubert manuscripts in the possession of the Musikverein, seeking the lost Gastein Symphony, the existence of which he never doubted but never found.

Grove’s own and finest work in the Dictionary are in the articles on Beethoven (62 pages) and Schubert (55 pages). No man can pledge posterity: but I sincerely hope that no future edition will ever see them changed or abridged, for as they stand they are a fitting tribute to the memory of a great musical historian and a record of what we in our day thought worthy. But the cardinal virtue of the whole book is the generally well balanced record of musicians and their works, of music and its forms, of musical instruments and their shapes. I have one suggestion to offer: in the years to come, when time must inevitably call for a new edition, may a system of cross-indexing be introduced.

On the other hand, by La main gauche

Musical opinion, October 1935