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Dent, Edward J(oseph)locked

  • Anthony Lewis
  •  and Nigel Fortune

(b Ribston, Yorks., July 16, 1876; d London, Aug 22, 1957). English musicologist, teacher, translator and critic. He was educated at Eton, where he studied music with C.H. Lloyd, and Cambridge, where his teachers were Charles Wood and Stanford. He was elected a Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, in 1902, began lecturing on the history of music that year and also taught harmony, counterpoint and composition. In 1918 he left for London, where he worked as a music critic. He returned to Cambridge as professor of music in 1926, when he was again elected to a fellowship at King’s. He occupied the Cambridge chair for 15 years. From his retirement until his death he lived in London.

At Cambridge, Dent completely reorganized the teaching for the MusB degree. He realized that this degree would no longer be taken mainly by church organists but that a Cambridge education in music would produce members of other branches of the musical profession – school and university teachers, composers, critics, BBC staff and so on – and he consistently aimed at giving the curriculum greater breadth as a sound foundation, stressing particularly the study of music history and encouraging the performance of pre-19th-century, especially Baroque, music. He exercised a profound influence on several generations of young musicians, whose subsequent success as composers, teachers, performers or scholars owed much to his teaching and example. He himself composed a small amount of music, mainly of a conservative cast.

Dent opened up wide areas of the repertory that were then little known. An insistence on performance as the ultimate goal lay behind his approach to scholarship. He worked especially on Italian Baroque opera, and the fruits of his study appeared in a long series of articles and most notably in his books on Alessandro Scarlatti and Mozart’s operas, both of which show that he possessed to a rare degree the power to form keen critical judgments based on close, accurate scholarship. He contributed an edition of Cupid and Death to Musica Britannica in the hope that it would stimulate stage productions. His broad, catholic outlook prevented him – and through him his research students – from becoming so absorbed in the detail of a particular project as to lose sight of its wider musical and social context.

Given his research interests, it is not surprising that operatic activity in Britain owes Dent a special debt. He was involved in the historic production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at Cambridge in 1911, when the work was still practically unknown to the British musical public. His translation of it initiated a long series of fine translations that did much to bring opera to a wider audience. He wanted opera – indeed all music – to be enjoyed, and he felt that the barrier of a foreign language prevented many people from enjoying it as much as they ought. He was very well equipped for his task, for he was an excellent linguist, had an easy literary style and was constantly preoccupied with the needs of the theatre and the voice. His success was great, and several generations of opera audiences have had the benefit, almost for the first time, of translations that are worthy of the originals and convey the course of the drama stylishly and idiomatically. Language, however, is in a constant state of flux, and Dent’s translations are of necessity being modified or superseded with the passing years. Yet this does not diminish his achievement in bringing a new dimension into British operatic experience which, moreover, to the benefit of his successors, immeasurably raised the status of the translator. He was a director and later governor of Sadler’s Wells Opera and a director of Covent Garden Opera Trust.

When Dent was a young man British musical life was in many respects insular, and one of his most important achievements was to broaden horizons and establish wider contacts. His linguistic ability and catholic tastes again helped him here; so too did his extensive knowledge of European culture, his international standing as a scholar and his relaxed and adaptable manner – witty and urbane in exposition, subtle and persuasive in diplomacy. After World War I he devoted much effort to the restoring of artistic links between the combatant countries. One outcome of this activity was the establishment in 1923 of the ISCM, of which he was elected the first president; he held the position until 1938. It is a measure of the breadth of his interests and of the esteem in which he was held that he was also, from 1931 to 1949, president of the IMS, a combination of the two offices in one person which has not been (and is unlikely to be) repeated. He was subsequently made honorary president of both bodies. Yet he had a strong mischievous and irreverent streak and delighted in uttering outrageous opinions about music that he felt had been accepted with unthinking reverence. His delight would increase if he knew that he thereby shocked the respectable – especially if they were clergymen or women. He rebelled against the conventions of the society of his day and was a radical dissenter and an enemy of smugness and snobbery. His attitudes were in many ways paradoxical: for instance, he was an agnostic who yet composed a group of moving and wholly sincere motets; and he could express left-wing sympathies but always maintained that many of the main achievements of music had been fostered by aristocratic societies.

In 1961, in recognition of his services to international scholarship, the Royal Musical Association, of which he was president from 1928 to 1935, instituted the Dent Medal, which is awarded annually to recipients selected for their outstanding contributions to musicology by the council of the association. In 1953 Dent was one of the first two musicians to be elected a Fellow of the British Academy. He was an honorary doctor of music at Oxford (1932), Harvard (1936) and Cambridge (1947) universities.


  • ‘Alessandro Scarlatti’, PMA, 30 (1903–4), 75–90
  • Alessandro Scarlatti (London, 1905, rev. 2/1960/R by F. Walker)
  • ‘Leonardo Leo’, PMA, 32 (1905–6), 59–71
  • ‘A Jesuit at the Opera in 1680’, Riemann-Festschrift (Leipzig, 1909/R), 381–93
  • ‘Ensembles and Finales in Eighteenth-Century Italian Opera’, SIMG, 11 (1909–10), 543–78; xii (1910–11), 112–42
  • ‘Italian Chamber Cantatas’, MA, 2 (1910–11), 142–53, 185–99
  • ‘Notes on the “Amfiparnasso” of Orazio Vecchi’, SIMG, 12 (1910–11), 330–46
  • ‘Italian Opera in the Eighteenth Century, and its Influence on the Music of the Classical Period’, SIMG, 14 (1912–13), 500–09
  • Mozart’s Operas: a Critical Study (London, 1913, 2/1947/R; Fr. trans., 1958)
  • ‘The Laudi Spirituali in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries’, PMA, 43 (1916–17), 63–95
  • ‘Music in University Education’, MQ, 3 (1917), 605–19
  • ‘Hans Pfitzner’, ML, 4 (1923), 119–32
  • Terpander, or Music and the Future (London, 1926/R1965 as The Future of Music)
  • Foundations of English Opera: a Study of Musical Drama in England during the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, 1928/R)
  • ‘Englische Einflüsse bei Händel’, HJb 1929, 1–12; Eng. orig. in MMR, lxi (1931), 225–8
  • ‘Social Aspects of Music in the Middle Ages’, OHM, introductory vol., ed. P.C. Buck (2/1929/R), 184–218
  • ‘William Byrd and the Madrigal’, Musikwissenschaftliche Beiträge: Festschrift für Johannes Wolf, ed. W. Lott, H. Osthoff and W. Wolffheim (Berlin, 1929/R), 24–30
  • ‘Engländer’, Handbuch der Musikgeschichte, ed. G. Adler, 2 (Frankfurt, 1924, 2/1930/R), 1044–57
  • ‘The Universal Aspect of Musical History’, Studien zur Musikgeschichte: Festschrift für Guido Adler (Vienna, 1930/R), 7–11
  • ‘The Romantic Spirit in Music’, PMA, 59 (1932–3), 85–102
  • Ferruccio Busoni (London, 1933/R)
  • Handel (London, 1934/R)
  • ‘The Translation of Operas’, PMA, 61 (1934–5), 81–104
  • ‘Bellini in Inghilterra’, Vincenzo Bellini, ed. I. Pizzetti (Milan, 1936; Eng. version in Taylor, 1979), 164–90
  • ‘Otto Kinkeldey’, MQ, 24 (1938), 405–11
  • Opera (Harmondsworth, 1940, 2/1949/R)
  • Notes on Fugue for Beginners (Cambridge, 1941/R)
  • ‘Italian Opera in London’, PRMA, 71 (1944–5), 19–42
  • A Theatre for Everybody: the Story of the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells (London, 1945/R, 2/1946)
  • ‘Problems of Modern Opera’, Music Today, 1 (1949), 97–109
  • ‘Gioacchino Antonio Rossini’, The Heritage of Music, ed. H. Foss, 3 (London, 1951), 70–89
  • ‘Madrigali italiani in Inghilterra: storia, critica, testi’, Italian Studies, 6 (1951), 94–100
  • ‘The Operas’, Handel: a Symposium, ed. G. Abraham (London, 1954/R), 12–65
  • ‘Donizetti: an Italian Romantic’, Fanfare for Ernest Newman, ed. H. Van Thal (London, 1955), 86–107
  • ‘The Sixteenth-Century Madrigal’, NOHM, 4 (1968), 33–95
  • ed. W. Dean: The Rise of Romantic Opera (Cambridge, 1976)
  • ed. H. Taylor: Selected Essays (Cambridge, 1979)
Libretto translations
  • Auber: Fra Diavolo (1944); Beethoven: Fidelio (1938); Berlioz: Les Troyens (1935), Benvenuto Cellini (1936); Busoni: Doktor Faust (1937), Turandot (1937), Arlecchino (1939); Donizetti: Don Pasquale (1946); Flotow: Martha (1941); Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice (1941); Handel: Deidamia (1955); Kodály: Háry János (1950); Mozart: Die Zauberflöte (1911), Le nozze di Figaro (1937), Don Giovanni (1937), Die Entführung aus dem Serail (1952); Rossini: Il barbiere di Siviglia (1941); Tchaikovsky: Yevgeny Onegin (1946); Verdi: Il trovatore (1939), Rigoletto (1939), La traviata (1944), Un ballo in maschera (1952); Wagner: Das Liebesverbot (1922); Weber: Der Freischütz (1948); Wolf-Ferrari: I quatro rusteghi (1946)


  • B. Maine: Behold these Daniels (London, 1928), 25–30
  • L. Haward: ‘Edward J. Dent: a Bibliography’, MR, 7 (1946), 242–62; pubd separately (Cambridge, 1956)
  • E. Wellesz: ‘E.J. Dent and the International Society for Contemporary Music’, MR, 7 (1946), 205–8
  • J. A. Westrup: ‘Dent as Translator’, MR, 7 (1946), 198–204
  • C. Bailey: Hugh Percy Allen (London, 1948), 16, 19–22, 24, 27–32, 128 [incl. extracts from Dent’s diary]
  • E. J. Dent: ‘Looking Backward’, Music Today, 1 (1949), 6–25
  • Obituary. MMR, 87 (1957), 202–3
  • Obituary. E. Blom, ML, 38 (1957), 368 only
  • Obituary. A. Corbet, RBM, 11 (1957), 79–81
  • Obituary. G. M. Gatti, RaM, 27 (1957), 316–18
  • Obituary. J. P. Larsen and J. Bentzon, DMt, 32 (1957), 104–5
  • Obituary. H. Rutland, MT, 98 (1957), 571 only
  • Obituary. G. Sharp, MR, 18 (1957), 319 only
  • Obituary. J. A. Westrup, AcM, 29 (1957), 109–10
  • Obituary. S. Wilson, Opera, 8 (1957), 690–92
  • Obituary. H. F. Redlich, Mf, 11 (1958), 49–51
  • Obituary. J. B. Trend, The Score, no.22 (1958), 49–55
  • Alban Berg: Letters to his Wife, ed., trans. and annotated B. Grun (London and New York, 1971), 326, 361–2, 376–8, 423
  • W. Dean: ‘Edward J. Dent: a Centenary Tribute’, ML, 57 (1976), 353–61
  • P. Radcliffe: E.J. Dent: a Centenary Memoir (Rickmansworth, 1976)
  • P. N. Furbank: E.M. Forster: a Life (London, 1977–8/R)
  • H. Carey: Duet for Two Voices: an Informal Biography of Edward Dent Compiled from his Letters to Clive Carey (Cambridge, 1979)
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