By Joel Kasow
NEW YORK, 29 November 2006—Americans should be grateful to National Public Radio, one of the
few (relatively) untainted voices of the national and local media.
The NPR Listener’s Encyclopedia of Classical Music is a
useful tool for neophyte listeners and those who want just a quick
reminder about a composer, work, or musical term. Such a tool is always
the reflection of the author’s prejudices so that—for opera—there is no
entry for Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites while we do find an
entry for Pfitzner’s Palestrina
, strange considering
that the former is on its way to repertory status.
The "in" composers of today are there (Adams,
Glass, Reich, Adès) but nothing about various composers of the previous
generation such as Peter Mennin, David Diamond, Douglas Moore and even the
operatically prolific Carlisle Floyd, to cite a few examples, though space
is found for Lukas Foss and Randall Thomson. Four pages are devoted to
American Mavericks and New Voices, but the choices are certainly
idiosyncratic. There is also the question of cross-referencing, so that
while there is an entry "castrato" in which mention is made of
Mozart’s Idomeneo, in the entry devoted to the opera there is no
mention of a castrato
or that the role in question was
later revised for tenor.
Cities and venues in the United States are included but not those
elsewhere. On the credit side are the biographical entries devoted to
performers, although Christian Thielemann does not make the cut. The
entries are all upbeat, so there is no description of the textual
difficulties of Carmen or Contes d’Hoffmann or
L’incoronazione di Poppea; while the nastiness with respect to
Jean Martinon’s tenure in Chicago is too lightly glossed over.
Recommendations for listening are sometimes quite personal, meaning
they would not necessarily be my choices. In association with Naxos
Records, one can listen to over 500 selections on the Naxos website, which
does not tell us who the performers are.
The NPR Listener's Encyclopedia of
By Ted Libbey
Paperback: 928 pages
Workman Publishing Company (11 April 2006)
Joel Kasow is a senior editor at