If you want to know how many pieces of music Beethoven composed for 'four hands', which jazz musician opened the African Rhythms Club and why can you play a racket (no, it is nothing to do with tennis), then you may want to use the Oxford Music Online database. Incorporating the Grove Musical Dictionary, this database traverses music from across the world and across different timeframes.

State Library Victoria members can access hundreds of databases from home (if your home is in Victoria). That’s millions of articles, magazines, archives, ebooks, videos, songs, audiobooks and more, available through the catalogue anytime. We’re taking a closer look at new and/or interesting databases as well as hidden gems from our collections. Read on for top picks and tips from Librarians.

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Today we’re looking at the Oxford Music Online database.

Oxford Music Online home page banner image, with search box, description of database, links to main database categories and pictures of famous musicians

What makes this database so great?

Oxford Music Online is an enormous collection of music scholarship built upon the long-standing Grove Music Dictionary, along with the Oxford Dictionary of Music and the Oxford Companion to Music. The database reflects the historical and ‘western’ nature of its origins, whilst also encompassing music from across the world, making it an inclusive collection of writing about all types of music and musicians.

The entries within the database reflect the need of music fans and scholars to receive concise, accurate details that can both satisfy with its brevity whilst providing avenues to further research. The entries are written by music scholars, who include relevant sources listed within each record.

Searching the database

Searching can be undertaken with a simple word search. The Advanced Search allows for combining search terms and filtering your answers.

The home page of the database displays categories of interest, which allow you to look up eras of music, different types of instruments, and people involved in the music industry. These include not just musicians, for example within the Occupation category you will find all manner of people involved with music such as; scholars, audio engineers, and even patrons and donors (including interesting folks such as Marie Antoiniette and Baron de Bagge).

Topical Guides to Grove Music

The Topical Guides page links to detailed articles within a time period or genre. For example, viewing the Classical guide will give you options to check an encompassing essay on the topic, as well as Biographical pages about Composers, Poets and Librettists, and Theorists/Patrons. Other links on the page include explorations into Genres and Forms, Musical Centres, and Concepts and Terms.

Topical Guides screenshot
Screenshot of Topical Guides to Grove Music, listing all categories

Some Highlights

Projects that highlight previously neglected fields of research

The Oxford Music/Grove Musical Dictionary was originally written with a view to promote the importance of western music and culture from a largely patriarchal stance. Over the past 40 years, the database has reflected the needs of society to accurately reflect music from people across the world and has allocated large resources towards covering previously neglected areas of scholarship. Two examples of ongoing projects are the Women Gender and Sexuality project and Latin and Iberian Music communities project. The development of specific lists and timelines gives the researcher flexibility to explore within these areas.

Alice Shields standing in a studio with musical electronic equipment on the brick walls
Alice Shields, composer, at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in 1973. © Oxford University Press.

Detailed histories of ‘canonised’ composers, including indexes to Collected Works.

A great strength of this collection is the detailed biographical and scholarly appraisal of the works of Western European composers. Entries for composers such as Wolfgang Mozart and Johann Sebastian Bach are intricate and give the patient reader a detailed overview of these famed figures. Information includes biography and bibliography, musical traits of the composers, their innovations and the composers’ impact on music and culture. The entries for composers who have had their ‘Collected Works’ or historical editions published have thorough guides within the Oxford Music Online database that pinpoint the location of hundreds of separate pieces of music within the massive and often confusing Collected Works volumes.

The database has expanded its view on important musical figures whose work is worth theoretical discussion and transcription outside of opera and classical music. Within fields such as jazz, world music, rock and pop, not only is there biographical and recording information but also examples of musical innovation and themes that are investigated in depth.

Musical instruments from around the world

Instrument called the Áyotl
Áyotl. Aurelia W. Hartenberger, Ed.D. © Oxford University Press.

Many entries from the five-volume The Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments are listed within the Oxford Music Online database. Instrument types include Aerophones (blown instruments), Chordophones (stringed instruments), Idiophones (instrument body percussion), Keyboard Instruments, Membranophones (stretched membrane percussion), Electronic Instruments, and even Corporeal Techniques (body sounds).

This covers several thousand different instrument types from all over the world, such as the ‘ūd, violin, and zvonce. Collections of instruments such as the gamelan and some unusual ones like the serpent, the buccin, and the fictional cat clavier. The body sounds section includes teeth playing, whilst there are listings for modern electronic instruments including the Arcontinuo and the AlphaSphere.

The electronic musical instrument the AlphaSphere.
AlphaSphere elite 2012. nu desine & Benjie Croce. © Oxford University Press

We hope you enjoy exploring the Oxford Music Online database. 

We always welcome your recommendations for database trials  – let us know what you’d like to see.  Have a research query or questions on how to use our online collections? Ask a Librarian.

More to explore

Check out our latest databases on trial, and see a full list of all new and trial databases, by visiting our A-Z Databases page.

If you have enjoyed reading about this database, please consider listening to musical databases, including the Naxos Music Library and other music resources held by State Library Victoria.

Answers to questions in the introduction:

  1. Ludwig van Beethoven composed five pieces to be played by four hands (two people at the same time).
  2. Jazz pianist Randy Weston opened the African Rhythms Club. There is an in-depth database entry regarding nightclubs and other venues.
  3. The racket (or rackett) is a double reed instrument from the Renaissance and Baroque eras. It is likely that when it was poorly played it may have be described as “making a racket”.

This article has 1 comment

  1. Fiona O'Doherty

    I am so intrigued by Alice Shields and love the pose she is striking in the photo. Unsung Electronic Music Pioneer?

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