JWR Articles: Book - Speaking of Music (Founding Editor: Barry S. Brook) - August 15, 2004
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Speaking of Music

Music Conferences, 1835-1966

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762 pages

ISBN 1-932765-00-X
Music reference hard to put down

Annotated bibliographies are not generally thought of as compelling page turners, but in Speaking of Music – Music Conferences, 1835-1966 (fourth addition to the Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale’s Retrospective Series) the topics are so wide ranging and the hefty volume so well laid out that the hours slip by simply browsing the material, much less going online or off to the library to read the full text.

Barry S. Brook’s (American musicologist, 1918-97) dream of indexing reports in music and providing informative abstracts took a quarter-century to realize. Responsibility for transforming Brook’s vision and his dusty boxes jammed with file cards into this comprehensive volume was passed along from editor to editor at RILM’s New York headquarters until 2001, when significant funding was obtained from the Andrew J. Mellon Foundation, allowing the completion of this massive effort: money well spent.

The book consists of two parts: abstracts (bibliographic citations) and an index (further divided by conference locations, conference sponsors, and combined authors and subjects).

Clearly, the world loves to talk about its most universal art.

Imagine attending the First International Congress of Public Art (Brussels, September 24-29, 1898) and discussing the popular benefits of music. Or being in Paris at the turn of the century for the first meeting of the International Congress of Music (June 14-18, 1900) and hearing about standards for metronomes, the usefulness of conducting schools, and the establishment (or not) of higher standards for music critics!

The Fourth International Congress of Publishers (Leipzig, June 10-13, 1901) had a presentation devoted to “copyrights on musical works by manufacturers of mechanical instruments”—think MP3 without electrons.

Music instruction has also had rigorous debate over the decades. The 1903 Second International Conference of Historical Sciences in Rome heard about the need for music history to be linked to civil and social history, as well as classification schemes of music and music-related books for public libraries. Skipping ahead to 1953, Geoffrey Waddington’s paper to UNESCO discussed the merits of using radio broadcasts—particularly the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s—as a tool for music appreciation.

In the index section, I came across entry 2298: a dissertation by Alfredo Casella (1883-1947) on “Contemporary music and the public.” Having just reviewed one of his compositions (cross-reference below), I was delighted to connect with the composer in another manner, soon realizing we share the belief that the failure of contemporary music to attract large audiences rests with all concerned: composers, presenters, performers and—yes—even critics!

Finding this coincidental reference will produce two results: the “tracking down” of the complete article, (now that I know where to find it) and the frequent return to Speaking of Music for leads to further insights and details about music, its composers, practitioners, and overall place in society.

Whether through the actual book or its related online database, those looking beyond the surface of the world’s incredibly varied banquet of music will gain easy access to specialized knowledge and discourse from this marvellous compendium of reflection, thought and ideas. JWR

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Founding Editor - Barry S. Brook
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