H. Wiley Hitchcock: Changing History

H. Wiley Hitchcock: Changing History

FRANK J. OTERI: You write history and then time passes on, so the things that you don’t write about, the things that happen after you write the book, get left out of the history…


FRANK J. OTERI: They’re not going to get written about, which is a tricky thing because it takes a while for a new edition of a book to be published and one of the things that I wanted to talk to you quite a bit about was the Grove Dictionary of American Music.


FRANK J. OTERI: To this day, there’s nothing like it. But you know, a number of years have gone by and lo and behold, there’s a new edition of the official Grove

H. WILEY HITCHCOCK: And of Jazz Grove.

FRANK J. OTERI: Right, but there is not a new edition of American Grove. But to take this story back to its beginnings, how did the American Grove come about?

H. WILEY HITCHCOCK: Through the vision of Stanley Sadie, who was the editor of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the big 20-volume revision in 1980 of the old Grove’s Dictionary—an outstanding and unique and innovative version of the earlier editions of Grove. Stanley was the editor of that 1980 version, and to it he brought an ecumenical view of music, music all over the world, and all kinds and levels and emphases, including jazz and popular music, which had had no role to speak of in the previous Grove’s Dictionaries. Stanley considered American music important, and he turned to me to be the area editor for the Americas. I didn’t know much about Canadian music, so I got John Beckwith to assist me with Canada; and I got Gerard Béhague to assist me with music south of the border; my own editorial concentration was on United States music and I had a fairly free hand from Stanley on that. Some American composers had been in the New Grove of 1980, and he said, “Well, take a look at the articles on them and consider that this is now going to be an American music dictionary, perhaps of two volumes, and you can enlarge those articles and think about lots and lots and lots of other American composers and American musics of all kinds, and start planning your own dictionary.” And as you know, it ended up with 4 volumes [laughs], twice as long as planned. Fairly early on, it was clear that Stanley, who was British and lived in England, and Wiley, who was American and lived in New York, had a whole ocean between us, and we needed somebody in the middle, so we interviewed for someone to come in and be a sort of administrative interacter, and we happened upon Susan Feder, and she was marvelous. She was, as I’ve insisted ever since, the lynchpin of that dictionary. Within American music, we divided it up by letters for the various sub-areas. I was in charge of sub-area R (among others); that was for immigrant composers like Dvorak, Milhaud, Hindemith, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Bartók, Martinu, and so on.

FRANK J. OTERI: Miklós Rózsa.

H. WILEY HITCHCOCK: Well, Rozsa was assigned to film music, a whole other area.

FRANK J. OTERI: Now the thing about that edition that’s so unusual is here you have essentially a British publication, devoting itself to being an exhaustive compendium of information about the music of one specific country outside of that country. Why didn’t we ever come up with the idea for an American Grove ourselves?

H. WILEY HITCHCOCK: Probably because of that tendency on the part of Americans to think that they are not really quite as sophisticated or serious minded or they don’t have a history, they don’t have a historical background comparable to those of the European subcontinent. What Lou Harrison calls the northwest corner of Asia! [laughs] But I must point out that again Stanley Sadie was self-effacing and generous: he didn’t pretend to know anything about American music, so he came to me and effectively said, “Here…” He was working for MacMillan Company, Ltd. of course, which was in it for the money, and they thought they saw a market in America for an encyclopedia essentially of American music, thought it would be a big sales item … and this brings us back to the question, there’s this brand new 29- or 30-volume second edition of the big international dictionary. And there’s a new edition of the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. Why not a new one of “AmeriGrove”? Well, apparently it wasn’t as financially successful as they had hoped or planned or imagined. And so there’s never been a mention of a 2nd edition.

FRANK J. OTERI: And it was never issued in paperback either.

H. WILEY HITCHCOCK: No, no, you’re right.

FRANK J. OTERI: Well, that…once again that leads to another interesting issue. Stanley Sadie, not knowing about American music, was very lucky to find you and to find Susan Feder and to find other people who were very knowledgeable about this. But when we let someone else write our own history rather than write it for ourselves, we face the problem of a lot of the information not being there and one of the things that I thought was so interesting about the 1980 Grove, which was obviously taken care of in American Grove and the revised new Grove that just came out—in the 1980 edition, John Adams wasn’t in there. You could say that his career was just starting, but he had already reached a level of recognition that a comparable British composer who was his age would have been in there just because they would’ve known about him, they would’ve known that this is somebody to include. Which raises the question—how do you get into Grove? Where do you need to be in your career?

H. WILEY HITCHCOCK: Well, perhaps it was my fault if John Adams was not in the 1980 version. I can’t remember when I first became aware of John Adams as a composer. I think it must have been around that time. But remember: 1980 was the publication date of the New Grove, so essentially that dictionary was completed by 1978 or something like that. But I made very certain to get John Adams in AmeriGrove, in 1986!

FRANK J. OTERI: As well as John Luther Adams!

H. WILEY HITCHCOCK: John Luther Adams! Good, I’m glad. [laughs] Oh! Maybe that’s why John Luther was so pleasant to me when he became president of AMC and showed up in New York from his native Alaska!

FRANK J. OTERI: So, where do you need to be in your career to merit an entry?

H. WILEY HITCHCOCK: It’s so objective…objective?? That’s an interesting slip!! It’s so subjective: it depends on who’s doing the selection and who’s doing the recommendations. You must remember that the big Grove’s Dictionary of 1980 had hundreds of authors—hundreds! And Stanley Sadie turned to American musicologists for all kinds of topics, not just American but in fact, most of the musicological articles on major classical music composers were by Americans. And, for the American Grove, there were a similarly large number of American contributors, and once Susan and I had decided on the subdivision into areas, we had about 15 to 20 of them, and we got area sub-editors for each of those. John Rockwell, for example, was our principle adviser on rock, both in the entries to have on rock and the authors to write them; at the time John was the major rock critic. Similarly, Edward Berlin, who did a doctoral dissertation on ragtime (by the way, still the best book on ragtime, now in its 2nd edition) was named as the area sub-editor for ragtime, charged with proposing players and composers of ragtime, and authors on entries on them. So, that was one way in which the dictionary was not a hegemony or a dictatorship of content, so to speak, though obviously it called on decisions by individuals.

FRANK J. OTERI: In a way though, with newer music, you’re acting a little bit as a fortuneteller, you’re acting a bit as a…maybe in 1980 it wasn’t so clear, or I take it back, 1978, maybe by 1978, Shaker Loops hadn’t even been composed yet.

H. WILEY HITCHCOCK: Is that true? I was trying to remember the first time I heard Shaker Loops and also the Greek…

FRANK J. OTERI:Phrygian Gates was 1979, I think.


FRANK J. OTERI: And Shaker Loops was ’80. One piece of his had already been recorded though called American Standard.

H. WILEY HITCHCOCK: I don’t even know that piece!

FRANK J. OTERI: With that great middle movement “Christian Zeal and Activity”…


FRANK J. OTERI: It was a fascinating piece and it was recorded by the Obscure label that Brian Eno ran for a while, but that was the only thing on record. So maybe in 1978 it would be hard to tell that he was going to be such a major player.

H. WILEY HITCHCOCK: Yes, I think so, exactly.

FRANK J. OTERI: And this gets back to what we were saying before. You write a book of history and then life goes on. What do you do with all the stuff that happens afterwards? Well, now they have this very impressive idea that the whole Grove Dictionary is on the Internet.


FRANK J. OTERI: And theoretically they should be able to revise it regularly, add works lists so the works list doesn’t end with the publishing date, because a living composer is still composing theoretically. Yet, those changes haven’t happened because such an enterprise is so cumbersome…I thought it was really interesting, Melinda Wagner won the Pulitzer Prize a couple of years ago. She’s not in the new edition of Grove Dictionary. Well, she probably wasn’t visible by the time that went to press, but certainly now, having won the Pulitzer Prize, it could be added on the Internet, but it still hasn’t been after two years!

H. WILEY HITCHCOCK: Yes. But who’s going to add it? And who’s going to be paid—who’s going to pay that person to add it? Once again we come down to money—as Virgil Thomson taught us, you know! [laughs] Macmillan would have to pay somebody to write the Melinda Wagner article.

FRANK J. OTERI: I still didn’t get the check for the one article I wrote for Grove. [laughs]

H. WILEY HITCHCOCK: Was your article printed?

FRANK J. OTERI: Yes. It was only $100. It wasn’t a lot of money, so, it’s not that big a deal…

H. WILEY HITCHCOCK: That’s the exception that proves my rule! [laughs]

FRANK J. OTERI: So maybe they need to assign the article first and then worry about paying the person [laughs] I don’t really mean that, of course, but we need to figure out a viable solution to this problem, though, because these articles really need to be written and the economic impetus is not always there. But let’s get back to who gets in and who doesn’t get in. I found there are people who were in the American Grove who were not in the 1980 Grove.

H. WILEY HITCHCOCK: Oh, yeah, lots of ’em!

FRANK J. OTERI: Lots. But some also didn’t make it into the new New Grove.

H. WILEY HITCHCOCK: Well, see there again you’re switching now from something regional (the American Grove), because it’s more than national, the American Grove I mean. Canada’s in it to a degree—but it’s not like the Music in Canada encyclopedia—but there’s also Mexico and Latin America and South America. But now, with the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd edition, that’s the thing that’s expanded geographically to the whole world, so there had to be some reductions of national or regional representation; it wasn’t a case of automatically including everything that was in the American Grove. And by the way, perhaps I should make it clear that I have had nothing to do with all of the many spin-offs of the New Grove of 1980, only the American Grove.

FRANK J. OTERI: Were you at all involved with this latest edition?

H. WILEY HITCHCOCK: No, I was not. A former student of mine and her late husband—Carol Oja and the greatly lamented Mark Tucker (who wrote the new general article on “Jazz” for the big “Newer Grove“)—were the area co-editors for United States music. I think they must be credited.

FRANK J. OTERI: So, then I guess from your vantage point, Americans do have as fair a chance as anybody of getting into the Grove Dictionary.


FRANK J. OTERI: Maybe even a fairer chance because there was this entire edition devoted to America.

H. WILEY HITCHCOCK: I hadn’t thought about the “Newer Grove.” as call the big new 30-volume international dictionary, so I really can’t speak about this. I don’t have any really intelligent opinion about whether we, here in the USA, have a better chance than anybody else except for the influence of the country in general and the increased respect for American music of all kinds on the part of the British.

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