The International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians (Oscar Thompson, Nicolas Slonimsky)
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The International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians (Oscar Thompson, Nicolas Slonimsky)
B0005. THE INTERNATIONAL CYCLOPEDIA OF MUSIC AND MUSICIANS (Oscar Thompson, Nicolas Slonimsky), 1964 Edition. New York, Dodd, Mead, 1964. 2476pp. Photos; Illus.


“In his autobiographical entry in Baker, Nicolas Slonimsky wrote: "Possessed by inordinate ambition, aggravated by the endemic intellectuality of his family of both maternal and paternal branches (novelists, revolutionary poets, literary critics, mathematicians, inventors of useless artificial languages, Hebrew scholars, speculative philosophers), he became determined to excel beyond common decency in all these doctrines." He excelled in several of them, but music - though absent from the list of family achievements - was his primary interest from the age of 6, when he began studying piano with Isabelle Vengerova, his aunt (and later a teacher of Samuel Barber and Leonard Bernstein). He studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatory until 1914. He was drafted into the Russian Army just before the revolution.

In 1918 he began touring as a vocal accompanist, then worked his way through Turkey and Bulgaria as a pianist in theaters and silent movie houses, arriving in Paris in 1921. There he became a rehearsal pianist for the conductor Serge Koussevitzky.

He came to the United States in 1923 to work as an accompanist in the newly created opera department at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, where he continued his composition and conducting studies. After two years there, he moved to Boston to resume his position as Koussevitzky's assistant. He also taught music theory at the Boston Conservatory and the Malkin Conservatory, and he began to contribute articles on music to The Boston Evening Transcript, The Christian Science Monitor and Etude magazine. In 1927, he started his Chamber Orchestra of Boston and began to solicit music from composers he admired.

Ives, thrilled with Mr. Slonimsky's performance of "Three Places," sponsored a European tour that allowed Mr. Slonimsky to present recent American works. In Paris, during that 1931 tour, he married Dorothy Adlow, an art critic for The Christian Science Monitor. Mr. Slonimsky became an American citizen the same year.

His conducting career flourished briefly, but by the mid-1940's he had returned to academia. He headed the Slavonic languages and literature department at Harvard from 1945 to 1947, and toured Europe and the Middle East as a lecturer for the State Department. After his wife died in 1964, he moved to Los Angeles and taught for three years at the University of California.

His first book, "Music Since 1900," appeared in 1937. A day-by-day chronology of important as well as amusing but trivial events in 20th-century music, the work has been revised several times, most recently in 1987. In his Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns (1947), he ingeniously catalogued combinations of notes that could be used as musical themes. Jazz musicians found the book particularly useful; John Coltrane reportedly required his band members to play through it.

Mr. Slonimsky edited the Thompson's International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians from 1946 to 1958 and in 1958 became editor of the Baker, beginning with the fifth edition. He completely revamped the book for the sixth edition, published in 1978, and oversaw two more editions as well as abridged versions. Taking a break from biography, he turned his attention to musical terms in his Lectionary of Music (1989).

His books also include the "Lexicon of Musical Invective" (1953), a collection of scathing reviews of musical masterpieces; "Music of Latin America" (1945), "The Road to Music" (1947) and "A Thing or Two About Music" (1948). His autobiography (which he wanted to call "Failed Wunderkind") was published as "Perfect Pitch" in 1988.�

- Allan Kozinn, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 27 Dec., 1995