Historical Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Classical Music (2012)


Nicole V. Gagné’s Historical Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Classical Music (2012) surveys modern and contemporary classical music dating from 1890 to the present day, representing composers on an international scale. Although biographical information on composers and musicians who specialize in modern or contemporary music constitutes the primary focus of this book (350 entries), Gagné also includes 60 entries on relevant musical topics such as compositional methods and styles, which provides reader with better understanding of the music discussed. Composers in jazz, pop, and rock have typically been excluded on the basis that these genres are too broad and varied to be adequately addressed within the scope of this work; however, individuals like Duke Ellington whose musical accomplishments extend into the realm of the concert hall have been included, as well as musicians like The Beatles whose work left such an indelible, “radical” mark in their own field that it is appropriate to discuss them within the book’s context. Biographical entries typically provide dates of birth and death, nationality, career overview, important compositions, and cross-references to relevant topic entries. As for the topic entries, these typically discuss the historical overview of the subject, its characteristics, its important or prominent proponents, and often cross-reference to the entries of said proponents.

Beyond the dictionary proper, Gagné supplies a useful introduction discussing the musical history of the time period considered by this book, a chronology, and a lengthy bibliography citing books, articles, reviews, and websites. The citations are exclusively English-language, with the majority of books published after 1970.  Because the bibliography is divided into sections concerned with a specific publication type, and entries often grouped by the subject composer, readers will find it easy to quickly locate citations pertaining to a specific individual. Historical Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Classical Music is recommended for scholars and students (musician or otherwise) who are performing research in this field or are interested in learning more about this corpus of music and the individuals who create it.

Lindsay Weaver
Research Assistant