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Aimed at the college music student, this single volume condenses Richard Taruskin’s six-volume Oxford History of Music into a most attractive and useful single textbook, though ‘condensed’ is hardly the appropriate adjective for a tome of more than 1,200 pages. Supplementary resources include a free companion website, three anthologies of scores, sold separately, and an 18-month subscription to Oxford Music Online. The latter is a bonus to be prized, for it constitutes a portal to Grove Music Online, the Oxford Companion to Music and the Oxford Dictionary of Music. Thus, the content of all three of these extras is available for instant electronic search, providing a truly helpful modern-age reference tool. In short, Christopher Gibbs’s college edition of the Oxford History is superb. One wouldn’t – couldn’t – carp.

Though the event did not mark the origin of music, or of the appearance of any particular musical repertory, the book’s account begins with the first literate repertory in the west, connected to the Catholic church: Gregorian chant. As with the rest of the text, the description is commendably clear, well-written and wide-ranging in its references, placing works and events within their global cultural, social, and political contexts. Period maps, diagrams, illustrations and musical examples appear in generous abundance. Chapter summaries, key terms, study questions and a glossary are provided. Tasteful use of colour enhances the pages.

Most musicians will have their favourite ways to test such a publication. Look up a particular topic or era about which one is expert, perhaps, whether Josquin or jazz, Monteverdi or Mahler. Another such test is to see how up-to-date and broadminded the contributions are. Here, the Oxford History excels. Begin, for example, with rock ’n’ roll, to see a timeline that mentions Elvis Presley, the Vietnam War, Terry Riley’s In C, the Stonewall riots, Miles Davis and Bitches Brew, Henryk Górecki’s third symphony, and the founding of Ircam, through to Pärt, Reich, Glass, John Adams’ Doctor Atomic of 2005, and other topics, and you’ll well understand what I mean. A milestone in the publication of music reference books.

JOHN ROBERT BROWN Read the full review on Agora Classica

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