History of Grove Music

Grove Music Online is the eighth edition of the venerable Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, which from its inception has been the foremost English-language encyclopedia of music. It is the first of these editions to be published electronically, and thus is an evolving edition with continually new and updated content.

It began in 1873 when George Grove – the British civil engineer, biblical lexicographer, organizer of musical concerts, writer of program notes, music critic, and editor of Macmillan’s Magazine – accepted an invitation from Macmillan Publishers to create A Dictionary of Music and Musicians to serve music professionals and a growing readership of well-educated lovers of the arts, literate “amateurs” who cultivated music as a pastime.

Grove planned his dictionary in an era marked by industrial, scientific, and scholarly progress. More than ever, expositions of industry and of culture gathered the most advanced products of society under one roof (as for example at London’s Crystal Palace from 1851); museums assembled artifacts for the edification of the general public (the opening of the new British Museum building and reading room, 1857); professions established associations that pooled expertise (in the United States, the Music Teachers National Association, founded 1876); editions and scholarly works collected knowledge and created foundational texts for further education and research (for example for J. S. Bach from 1851, for Beethoven from 1862). Moreover, social leaders in both England and the United States considered art music to be essential in the education of good citizens, and civic leaders devoted much effort to creating and sustaining orchestras, concert halls, and musical publications.

This was also an imperialist period of expansion for the British Empire, imbued with confidence in the superiority of British and continental European culture and a sense of a moral imperative for spreading it elsewhere around the globe. From the very start, the literate amateur was the model not only for the readership for Grove’s dictionary, but also for the editor and the authors as well. George Grove, an established civil engineer who then apprenticed in lexicography as an assistant editor with a biblical dictionary, became contributor to and editor of literary magazines; he lacked formal training in music but was self-taught, and wrote music criticism and program notes for concerts. His successors as editors of his dictionary over the ensuing century had increasing amounts of formal musical training, but before becoming editor all were most prominent as music critics.

The editors’ prefaces to the seven printed editions of Grove’s are rather unrevealing of their philosophies or of the particular editorial principles, scope, or methods in meeting the challenges of serving a contemporary readership. George Grove in his preface, dated 1 April 1879, speaks to the “great and long acknowledged want” and “growing demand” among “Professional musicians and Amateurs alike” in England and the U.S. for information about “modern” art music. His contributors, primarily belletrists like himself, compiled their information about musical terms, instruments, institutions, works, musicians, and patrons from libraries and living musicians on the continent and the British Isles, and to a lesser extent North America. Grove himself wrote some of the major articles, including those on Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Schubert; these have since been replaced by articles reflecting 20th-century research, but some two-dozen smaller entries by him (mostly on contemporary musicians and terms) still stand in GMO, revised by later scholars.

Grove’s Dictionary, the first volume of which appeared in 1878, was planned for two volumes but grew to become four by the time an appendix appeared in 1889, revealing another pattern that has persisted to the present: the expansion of knowledge beyond the editors’ (and publishers’) original intentions. The limits of coverage in the first edition are revealing both of the bounds of published scholarship in the 1870s and ’80s and of progressive attitudes within British culture. “The limit of the history has been fixed at A.D. 1450”, Grove wrote, as the earliest date for the rise of “modern music”; he felt that plainchant, Ars Antiqua and Ars Nova, and the music of antiquity held little interest for concertgoers. He likewise excluded the science of music (e.g., acoustics) and “the music of barbarous nations,” but devoted extra attention to English music and musicians. In recognition of his contribution to England through the creation of his dictionary and by leading in the founding of the Royal College of Music, Grove was knighted in 1883.

J. A. Fuller Maitland, who had assisted Grove in preparing the dictionary, became editor of the second edition, published in 1904 in five volumes, establishing the title by which it was long known, Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Fuller Maitland trained as a pianist and harpsichordist, edited early English music scores, and while working with Grove became a prominent music critic. While preserving as much as possible of Grove’s own writing, Fuller Maitland tried to balance the coverage to reflect objective evaluations of Grove’s competitors, reference works including Mendel’s Lexicon, Fetis’s Biographie Universelle des Musicians, and the British Dictionary of National Biography. He added an article on acoustics and commissioned new biographical entries, inserted additions and corrections as well as bibliographical citations in existing articles, and removed the terminus post quem to extend coverage to ancient music. He maintained Sir George’s notion of the readership and his cultural sensibilities of what constituted important information. An “American Supplement” edited by Waldo Selden Pratt and Charles N. Boyd first appeared in 1920 from an American publisher (Philadelphia: Theodore Presser), with a “Chronological Register” of some 2,000 persons “who seem to have been representative and influential”, followed by articles on persons and organizations.

The editor of the third (1927) and fourth (1940) editions of Grove’s was H. C. Colles, an organist, graduate of Oxford, prominent music critic, and professor of music at the Royal College of Music in London. He too was particularly knowledgeable about English music history, but also late-19th-century German orchestral and art-song repertories. In the aftermath of The Great War and in the face of rising Fascism in Europe, Colles led the dictionary toward becoming more a systematic reference work than a compendium of personal reflections, clearly marking which material was revised (“rev.”) or extended (“with addns.”), replacing many of the older articles with new ones, and taking advantage of the influx to Britain of scholars displaced from the continent. He kept to the length of the earlier edition at five volumes, though a sixth “Supplementary Volume” appeared in 1940. What is clear from his list of contributors to the 3rd edition is the high percentage (among those whose articles are retained) of deceased writers – nearly 60%.

Following the Second World War musical scholarship blossomed as colleges and universities, particularly those in North America, instituted music departments and hired immigrant scholars to their faculty. The charge of accounting for the new surge in knowledge about music in the 5th edition of Grove’s (1954) fell to Eric Blom, a British music critic, program annotator, journalist, and translator of musical literature from German. He expanded the dictionary from six volumes to nine, plus a supplement (1961). His emphasis on English literary style and on systematic editing strengthened the reputation of the dictionary as a scholarly reference tool. This edition sold well; its several printings in paperback included corrections, updates, and other small changes.

After nearly a century of Grove’s, the weight of tradition was almost palpable in the suite of rooms in London’s Bedford Row occupied by editors of the 6th edition from 1970, led by Stanley Sadie. Almost as a talisman, a hardbound copy of the 5th edition held a prominent place on a shelf, its covers swollen by paste-ins of the countless changes clipped from the pages of its reprints. The systematic approach was likewise represented by a set of loose-leaf binders assembling photocopies of the title pages and tables of contents for every discovered Festschrift and musical conference proceedings; by the sharing of data and fact-checking with the RISM project; and by the massive bank of index cards for each headword proposed for the new edition, color-coded by “area” and with a check-off system for the article’s progress (commissioned, received, copy-edited, etc.). The editorial staff was instructed to prepare the information so that it would be intelligible to the educated British reader. Each article, once it had been approved by its area editor, submitted to scrutiny against all other published authorities, and marked up according to the in-house style “bible”, was vetted for proper English literary style (“bleachers” in an article on American Indian powwows would be unintelligible to British readers, and became “terraced benches”; students might “read” music at a college but not “study” it, while instructors might “take” a course rather than “teach” it; and of course it was minims and crochets rather than half-notes and quarter-notes).

Much as his predecessors, Sadie was a prominent music critic and journalist, but he also had studied under leading British musicologists and earned a PhD in the field. Thus, he combined literate criticism of music and musical performance with training in music research, and was prepared to take advantage of the rapid expansion of international musical scholarship of the first generation to mature following WWII. He traveled frequently to scholarly conferences in Europe and North America, lining up the most prominent specialists as area editors to plan out coverage, suggest authors, and approve submitted articles. For instance, with Mantle Hood he planned out coverage of music around the globe. So thorough were the changes that the work was retitled The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. In a report on the edition’s progress (MLA Notes 13/2, December 1975, 259–68), Sadie confidently predicted that the new edition would comprise 14 volumes; in 1980 it appeared as 20 volumes, one million words per volume, 97% of it (by his later estimation) newly written. The New Grove, more than twice the size of its predecessor, undoubtedly constituted the largest single project of assembling musical knowledge ever undertaken for one edited reference work, bonding music scholars to it as a central project of their profession. It was also the first to involve scholars worldwide from every continent, including a large contingent of young Americans as writers and as editors.

Following publication of The New Grove, Sadie extended the contents in new collaborations with scholars, while Macmillan sought strategies for recouping its unprecedented financial investment. Book-length portions of New Grove contents and partly new “handbooks” (e.g., Analysis edited by Ian Bent and William Drabkin, 1987; Music Printing and Publishing co-edited with D. W. Krummel, 1990) were sold in partnership with W. W. Norton & Company, while Sadie developed projects to create separate New Grove dictionaries of musical instruments (3 volumes, 1984), American music (co-edited with H. Wiley Hitchcock, 4 volumes, 1986), jazz (edited by Barry Kernfeld, 2 volumes, 1988), opera (4 volumes, 1992), and women composers (edited by Julie Anne Sadie and Rhian Samuel, 1 volume, 1994).

Not all the new material in these publications found its way into the second edition of The New Grove (2001), edited again by Sadie and co-edited in its later stages of production by John Tyrrell. Even so, this new edition again expanded the contents by almost half, to 29 volumes. It had reached the point where the cost of printing, binding, storing and shipping paper copies was prohibitive, and so concurrent with its release in hard-cover, Macmillan converted the contents of The New Grove 2nd edition to a subscription-based electronic document called GroveMusic accessed online. Sadie described the changes in content and the challenges to the time-honored editorial process in an address to the Music Library Association annual meeting in 2000, subsequently published as “The New Grove, Second Edition”, in MLA Notes 57/1 (September 2000) 11–20.

The herculean task of bringing Grove’s into the Internet age and beginning its transformation into a reference work conceived for electronic access – in other words, a slowly evolving eighth edition – was taken up by Laura Macy, an early-music scholar with a PhD from the University of North Carolina who had assisted in the final years of preparing The New Grove 2nd edition. She overcame early “bugs” (such as the computer program’s inability to read or convey diacritics, or missing titles from some articles), solved problems with searching the contents, brought the contents of the opera and jazz dictionaries into the electronic dictionary, migrated the full contents to a new “platform”, resolved myriad snarls, and pointed the way toward maintaining the currency of the contents through timely updating. She continued Macmillan’s print projects, publishing new books particularly in opera and a 2nd edition of the jazz dictionary, and initiating second editions of the Grove Dictionary of American Music (edited by Charles Hiroshi Garrett, forthcoming in 2013) and Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments (edited by Laurence Libin, forthcoming in 2014), even after Oxford University Press took over the dictionary in 2003. She helped launch Oxford Music Online, including Grove Music Online as well as electronic versions of other Oxford music publications.

Deane Root, an American-music scholar and librarian with a PhD from the University of Illinois, was appointed Editor in Chief in 2009 and established an Editorial Board, who work with an expanded staff of editors in the OUP office. This group of editors is the first to focus on Grove Music as a predominantly online rather than print publication. They have prioritized the regular updating of articles – something that was inconceivable in the print environment – by establishing the UpdateGMO program in 2009 to encourage authors to keep their articles current and working with outside scholarly advisors to find authors to revise articles by the nearly 30% of contributors who are deceased or no longer active. They are also working to take advantage of the multimedia capabilities of the Website to enhance articles with audio and video materials, bring thousands of new articles to the site in the next few years through the incorporation of material from the print projects begun under Laura Macy’s tenure, and archive replaced and complementary versions of articles so that they remain available to readers. In addition to Web-based initiatives, they have targeted several areas for content development to address areas of rapidly expanding research, including articles devoted to musics of Eastern Europe, and a large-scale expansion of material covering global music and popular music.

For the current editors of Grove Music Online, the whole notion of an edition has changed from a concrete model tied to specific historical publication dates to a continually evolving, organic publication. Their goals are to create a product that builds on its more than a century of scholarship, that is able to both anticipate and respond to the needs of scholars as well as those literate amateurs whom George Grove sought to address, and to continue to improve its content and grow with the ever-changing technological landscape. By working closely with scholarly societies and other outside scholars, they seek to ensure that Grove remains not only a useful tool and an essential connection between scholars, students, and a worldwide general public, but also a vibrant part of the musicological community, and that the musicological community in turn remains at the heart of Grove Music for a long time to come.

Deane L. Root
Editor in Chief
Grove Music Online
1 July 2012


Additional Grove History Resources

Grove Conversations: Interviews with Grove authors and editors

Grove Edition Prefaces: Prefaces to key editions

History of Grove Timeline: An interactive timeline of the history of Grove, its editors and its editions.

Letter from the Editor: The current letter from the editor and archive of prior letters