Joseph P. Swain has been engaged with Baroque music, and music in general, for decades already. He has taught music history and theory for 35 years at Philipps Academy and Colgate University. In addition, he is an organist and director of music at St. Malachy’s Church and was until recently the music director of Tapestry, the All-Centuries Singers. He is the author of the Historical Dictionary of Sacred Music (Scarecrow, 2006).
As a longtime teacher and director of early music, Swain undoubtedly knows his subject matter. The 400-plus brief entries in this dictionary, ranging from one sentence to two pages, cover the European baroque era, 1600-1750. Approximately half focus on historical individuals, primarily composers, and another fifth deal with genres of composition such as cantatas. About 50 entries define period terms, although the author assumes readers will have a basic musical knowledge. The remaining entries are a mixture of institutions, works, places, and instruments. Numerous cross-references are boldfaced throughout, with some see also references appended to entries. Additionally, Swain includes a baroque chronology for the 1526 to 1920 period, a 19-page overview essay, and a 44-page unannotated secondary bibliography. Perhaps the only drawback to this otherwise well-done volume is the paucity of illustrations. Although most of the definitions and biographies here are found in a combination of general reference works--ranging from The Oxford Dictionary of Music, edited by T. Rutherford-Johnson, M. Kennedy, and J. Kennedy (6th ed., 2012), to The Harvard Dictionary of Music, edited by D. M. Randel --Swain's single-volume compendium is handy for students of the era. Summing Up: Recommended. All comprehensive academic music collections supporting graduate students and above.
— Choice Reviews
Joseph Swain, an organist and teacher of music history at Colgate University, authored his second historical dictionary. This dictionary provides basic information about traditions, persons, compositions, places, terminology, and institutions of Baroque music—music that dominated Western Europe from about 1600 to 1750. Nearly half of the entries are biographical, mostly composers, but the author also describes theorists, critics, and poets. . . .Another one-fifth of the entries are Baroque era genres—concerto, cantata, opera seria, and more. Other areas covered are techniques (e.g., figured bass, double dotting), theoretical terms (e.g., inversion, counterpoint, continuo, Baroque pitch), instruments (e.g., harpsichord, bassoon, theorbo), and places (e.g., Venice, Vienna, London, Paris). Swain gives titles of compositions in modern English form; for example, Art of Fugue and Christmas Oratorio. He presents detail lists of J. S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos; some works are known by their work numbers, such as Opus 3, a set of 12 concertos by Antonio Vivaldi, and Opus 6, 12 concerti grossi by Arcangelo Corelli. Swain lists dramatic works by several composers, including George Frideric Handel, Francesco Cavalli, Claudio Monteverdi, and Jean Baptiste Lully. Treatises, such as Gradus ad Parnassum (Johann Joseph Fux) and Traite de l' Harmonie (Jean Philippe Ramaeu) are given in their original languages. Swain also presents examples in musical notation. Most entries provide a sufficient, yet succinct, first source for users. See references are numerous and given in bold font. The chronology is of events outside of births (pp. xv-xxix). The bibliography is extensive and well organized, and is presented in great detail. The Historical Dictionary of Baroque Music serves as a quality ready-reference source, with resources cited for those seeking more detailed information.
— American Reference Books Annual