Reviews - What do customers think about The Complete Encyclopedia of Musical Instruments?
Pretty good. But could use some better editing. Jul 28, 2004
This book is one that you might expect to find buried in the books section of a discount club superstore, along with picture books on dogs and cats, plants, flowers and birds, World War II, Corvettes and Ferraris and other assorted planes, trains and automobiles, and what-have-you. And that is precisely where I happened to stumble across it while recently "weekend shopping." However, I don't think it particularly likely that the typical this site.com shopper looking for such a book will trip over it here, except by accident. So perhaps my thoughts on the book will bring it some additional customer exposure. It is not bad for what it is, it is lavishly illustrated (although not of "coffee table book" size), and it is certainly inexpensive enough.
"The Complete Encyclopedia of Musical Instruments," subtitled "A comprehensive guide to music instruments from around the world," is written by two Dutch authors (Bert Oling and Heinz Wallisch) who clearly know their stuff. Described and depicted (mostly with high-quality color photographs) is a wide variety of musical instruments from antiquity to modern times and from all corners of the globe, in chronological order by instrument family (percussion, strings, woodwinds, brass, keyboards, electronic), showing how the families of instruments developed over time. And many of them obscure in present-day times, although they may have seen use in the past. There is even, near the back of the book, a list of internet resources where additional information may be found. (One of these, contrabass.com, is a website that I have had bookmarked for some years now. It is a treasure trove of "instrumental arcana" that describes in even fuller detail a number of instruments, such as ophicleides and serpents, heckelphones and sarrusophones, that see little use today but which were the forerunners and/or alternatives to more commonly used instruments of modern times. This contrabass.com website even includes a discography of recordings that actually use these arcane instruments.)
This book will be of greatest interest to those of an inquisitive musical instrument bent, looking for a place to start in terms of identifying and cataloging instruments of antiquity and pre-modern times, as well as those of non-Western origin. In particular, those who follow the "HIP" (historically informed performance) practices of modern instrumentalists and ensembles, or who are world music fans, will find the book to be quite valuable for describing the instruments in actual use in such musical performances.
Considering the comprehensiveness of the book, however, there are some minor but nonetheless surprising oversights. Here are a few omissions that I managed to catch:
* The táragató, a Hungarian clarinet-like woodwind having saxophone-like "overblowing."
* The Irish Uilleann ("elbow") bagpipes.
* Frame drums (other than tambourines and bodhrans), such as those from North Africa.
* Instruments of the Balinese gamelan orchestra.
* "One-off" but nonetheless important instruments, such as those invented and used by Harry Partch.
A few of the photos have erroneous captions. (For example, the German bandoneon, made popular by its use in Argentinean tangos, is actually illustrated using the photo of a more conventional concert accordion.) And some of the descriptions seem to suffer from a language gap of sorts. (For instance, the thumb piano, from Zimbabwe, known nearly everywhere, from what I can determine, as the mbira, here gets a different and unfamiliar name.)
Much of the above "carping" can be chalked up to my personal interest in completeness and accuracy, and the typical reader will probably not even catch such points. But, to go back to my brief description at the outset, this effort could probably have used a qualified editor; proper names are also occasionally misspelled. As far as I can determine, the authors took it upon themselves to do the entire book without proper editorial help. And more power to them; English is, after all, their second language. I should do so well writing a book in Dutch!
Summary: Not perfect or complete, but an excellent bargain and a good starting point for someone needing such information and willing to read further.