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  • Researching the Song: A Lexicon
  • Ruthann B. McTyre
Researching the Song: A Lexicon. By Shirlee Emmons and Wilbur Watkin Lewis. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. [xiii, 507 p. ISBN 0-19-515202-6. $74.] Bibliography.

For anyone involved in the serious study of vocal music or for any music reference librarian, the names Shirlee Emmons and Stanley Sonntag should be familiar as the authors of The Art of the Song Recital (New York: Schirmer Books, 1979). There are undoubtedly many well-worn copies of that volume in many libraries and voice studios. Researching the Song, by Emmons and Wilbur Watkin Lewis, a student of both Emmons and Sonntag, is another resource that should reach that well-worn status. Taking the research that was begun by the late Stanley Sonntag some twenty years ago, Emmons and Lewis have produced the kind of resource that is both extremely useful and that makes for interesting reading. [End Page 368]

This lexicon devoted to Western art song will provide extensive background information to singers, voice teachers, and lovers of art song. Not only will it shed light on all those mysterious names and places included in songs texts, but it will offer biographical information on the poets and include lists of composers who have composed songs using the same poetry. Students will be able to gain a deeper understanding of the text in hand and will also be aided in building interesting song recital programs. As described in the introduction, the volume offers "explanations of most of the mythological, historical, geographical and literary references contained in western art song" (p. xi). It includes song literature from a broad swath of languages: Finnish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Russian, Scandinavian, Spanish, and of course, American and British English. It is important to note that while some fifty Scottish words are included, only a few offer guidance for pronunciation, owing to the fact that there are three different approaches to pronunciation based on historical periods.

One particularly helpful component of this lexicon relates to many of the songs of Henry Purcell. The authors have included plot synopses of all the Restoration theater works that contain Purcell's songs. Play titles are cross-referenced to their corresponding songs. Along this same line, the authors have included certain individual songs from larger works in an effort to "offer some history, plot and placement of the songs" (p. xii). One such example is "At the River" from Aaron Copland's Old American Songs. This by itself is one example of why one should keep a copy of the volume at the piano or in the studio. Readers will also find information about major song cycles such as On Wenlock Edge and Dichterliebe. Poet biographies are brief, but include bibliographic information for principal works and suggested readings. Readers will not find biographies of composers here, nor will they find definitions of terminology or specific words that are easily found elsewhere. Likewise, the authors have not included any type of analysis or criticism of works. Many of the entries in the lexicon include the consulted source or sources at the end of the entry. These will lead the reader to a list of abbreviations in the back of the book, which is also an excellent bibliography of other resources.

When introducing this book to a first-time user (especially younger singers), librarians and teachers will have the perfect opportunity to explain the difference between "dictionary" and "lexicon." Some readers might be confused at first glance by the seeming jumble of entries without proper understanding of how a lexicon differs from a dictionary. However, once that is sorted out, the user will have no problem unearthing answers. To test-drive the volume, I followed the authors' suggestions to select a piece of music, write down anything that warranted explanation, and then started looking things up. As my selection, I chose Benjamin Britten's A Charm of Lullabies, which is full of Classical names (in "Sephestia's Lullaby," for example) and Scottish words ("The Highland Balou"). Thinking like the undergraduate voice major I once was, I wrote down a list of words (balou, wagtail, brawlie, louns, weel, wanton), names (Sephestia, Rhadamanthus...


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