Considering the question of what qualifies a composer for inclusion in Grove‘s, I think first of the Dictionary’s general mission, which might be summarized in a critic’s description of J.S. Bach: “He is the spectator of all musical time and existence, for whom it is not of the smallest importance whether a thing be old or new, so long as it is true.” I look to Grove‘s to include composers whose works are, among many other admirable attributes, timeless and universal. “Timeless” is meant not only in the sense of enduring the test of time, but primarily in the quality of timelessness essential to, and inseparable from, the work itself. Both measures apply to the works of past composers, while only the latter, of course, applies to those of living composers.
A timeless work may be viewed as standing at the point of intersection between the temporal and
the eternal. It is distinctly characteristic of its particular era while seeming to transcend that era’s naturally narrow perspective. Such music frees us from the thrall of time, if only for the duration of the piece. Lifted out of self-concern, we “are the music while the music lasts.” We catch glimpses of eternity’s sublime landscape as we are carried inexorably onward.
A timely work which nevertheless stands outside of time rests on the foundation of a deeply felt experience of life and thoroughly considered world-view. I am convinced that it involves a kind of wisdom, a long-range and comprehensively encompassing perspective not necessarily expressible in words by the composer or anyone else. Such a composer does not care whether a thing be old or new so long as it is true, in his pursuit of truth in musical thought. Like such music itself, Grove‘s offers a partial corrective to our culture’s addled neophilia and ephemeral distractions. In presenting all of musical time to the present contemporary reader of any era, Grove‘s should be, and to a remarkable degree is, the scholarly complement to an art-form which offers us the pleasurable paradox of the eternal now.