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This historical dictionary – part of a series already extending to more than 50 volumes – includes not only composers, conductors, instrumentalists and singers, but also publishers, theatres, musicologists, teachers and education systems, while committees, resolutions and conferences all have many entries. There are entries for instruments such as the rozhok (17th-century wooden trumpet), the svirel (woodwind instrument from c850 AD), the bayan (a large accordion introduced in 1907), and a fascinating account of horn bands, popular since the time of Peter I.

Jaffé has been painstaking with the facts, questioning or correcting where necessary. Arthur Lourié is ‘said to have aggressively promoted avant-garde music, including, in particular, his own … this claim needs to be treated with some caution’. Regarding Diaghilev, Lyadov and The Firebird, ‘there is no documented evidence that Lyadov actually agreed to deliver the score; more probably he never accepted the commission’. There are many nuggets of unexpected information, including: The Nutcracker was not the first score in which Tchaikovsky used the celesta, the opening of Borodin’s second symphony was ‘possibly inspired by Robert Volkmann’s 1st Symphony’, and Beethoven’s ninth symphony received its Russian premiere in Engelhardt House, St Petersburg. My favourite gem concerns the Shander cinema palace orchestra (60-strong!), which regularly played whole symphonies during the shows, regardless of what was happening on the screen.

Wondering what the author’s criteria for inclusion were, I noted these omissions – Kurt Sanderling, Richard Taruskin, Daniil Shafran, Elisabeth Leonskaya and Elisso Virsaladze. Whereas Mikhail Pletnev and Alexei Lubimov are included, legendary fellow-pianist Evgeny Kissin is not, and Maxim Vengerov is also missing. Nevertheless, I do not wish to deter potential purchasers of this superbly produced dictionary, which also has an excellent chronology from c5500BC and a 30-page introduction. Nobody with a special interest in this subject should hesitate.

PHILIP BORG-WHEELER Read the full review on Agora Classica


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