The Oxford Companion to Music
Last updated: 07.01.17
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Printed: 1980 Author: Percy A. Scholes
Publisher: Oxford University Press ISBN: 0193113066
Copyright: OUP 1938    
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"This is the most famous of all one-volume musical encyclopedias. It contains over a million words on all aspects of music, lucidly and entertainingly presented, and nearly a thousand illustrations. It is the one indispensible possession of every musician and lover of music." (as quoted on the cover jacket, believe me, every word is true!).
My comments:
This a most beautiful book, the browser's delight and nightmare (you can never stop reading it). It's my favourite reference work and I always start with the "Companion" when looking things up and I'm rarely disappointed. I very much enjoy Dr Scholes descriptions and they are truly entertaining and exhaustive. An example: I was recently (December 1998) asked by a fellow bass in the Collegium Musicum, Bremen on the origins of "God Save the Queen" and Dr Scholes promptly provides 6 pages of small print with 18 headings starting with "1. A plainsong forerunner" and completing with (18. Finally ...).
When writing programme notes or getting any kind of musical background information this is the place to start. Whilst not presuming to be in the same universe as Dr Scholes, his book is an inspiration to me and is the role-model in my own scratchings. Entertainment is the word, and if you have a personal opinion, do not be afraid to express it.