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Sorry, but an Olympic analogy for the ever-developing Oxford Dictionary of Music steals into the mind. That great pioneer of musical appreciation Percy Scholes lit the torch back in 1952 with the first edition, since when it has been carried onward by John Owen Ward, the remarkable and indefatigable Michael and Joyce Kennedy, and now by Tim Rutherford-Johnson.

The flame still burns brightly in the shape of the ever-richer mix of composers, performers, venues, orchestras, individual works, instruments, musical terms, the odd dose of world music and so on. I now know the gekkin is a Japanese string instrument resembling the banjo; that Jessonda is an opera by Spohr; that al rovescio denotes a passage that can be played backwards as well as forwards; and that cumbia is an Afro-Colombian style of music/ dance.

Rutherford-Johnson’s work, he says, has included an amount of spring-cleaning, with ‘archaic, outmoded or politically incorrect language and opinions excised’. Spoilsport. Certainly there is nothing fancy about the ODM – no pictures, no bonus CD tucked into the back – and only the occasional, shy reference to a website you might like to consult. Which will please those proud to label themselves Luddites. So what is the point of such a volume in the age of Google? The appeal of serendipity, of course. The idea that beyond any particular reference usage, you can pick up the ODM at any time and just read it. A few pages. You’ll always come away fascinated by some little snippet with which to enliven breakfast tomorrow morning.

And of course one little family game you can play is spotting ODM omissions to huff and puff about. Cheap and childish I know, but let me suggest for my one carp that composer Eric Whitacre, darling of choirs the world over for a good while now, might feel aggrieved he’s not among the Ws.

ANDREW GREEN Read the full review on Agora Classica

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