The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad State of Classical Music Streaming (2022)

Part 1

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good,Very Bad State of Classical Music Streaming (1)

We’ve become accustomed to our ability to get almost anything at almost any time without leaving the comfort of our homes. From the most exotic takeout foods to the most mundane grocery staples…from living room furniture to garden supplies…from clothes for work to clothes for the beach, nearly infinite choices are just a few taps away, and delivered to our doorstep in hours.

Nowhere is this abundance more immediate than with media. From books to movies to music, pretty much anything imaginable is available instantly, on demand. Feel like reading a trashy “summer novel” over the long holiday weekend? No problem! You can have it instantly: just download it. Or download the audiobook version, if you’d prefer. Want to watch a classic movie? You don’t even need to download it: you can stream it to your big-screen TV and watch it right now. And music? You don’t have to make a trip to the record store anymore or even order the CD online. You can find more types of music than you ever imagined existed available for immediate download or streaming. (Who remembers the old days of Columbia House: the irresistible lure of 20 cassettes of your choice for only 1 penny? But waiting 6–8 weeks for delivery felt impossible!)

A near-infinite library of online music available, first, via downloads, then streaming, coupled with the ubiquity of smartphones and mobile networks, has been a savior for a declining music industry. “Unlimited” plans for both digital data and streamed music created the ability for people to curate their own private musical soundscape wherever, whenever. We can indulge our whim for Cardi B one minute and the Beatles the next, followed by a chaser of Duke Ellington.

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AND…with modern digital assistants like the Amazon Echo and the Google Home, we don’t even need to fiddle with our smartphones anymore. We can just ask, and presto! Our wish is their command!

Discoverability

But try asking Alexa to play “Beethoven String Quartet No. 7 with the Alban Berg Quartet” and the results are…um…unpredictable. (To say the least.) And don’t even try asking Alexa to play Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” or Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre du Printemps”! The Amazon Echo’s multi-lingual skills leave much to be desired when it comes to Classical music.

Spotify and Apple Music and Pandora and Amazon Music are no better. Try searching for Beethoven String Quartet No. 7 with the Alban Berg Quartet on any of these services and you’ll get a mishmash of results…many of which aren’t string quartets — or even Beethoven (let alone the Alban Berg Quartet)!

And even if you get lucky and find a recording that’s reasonably close to what you’re looking for, the track metadata displayed in your smartphone’s media player may still leave you wondering what, exactly, you’re listening to.

It seems that Classical music has been left badly behind in the race to digitize music. It’s not that you can’t get digital recordings of Classical music — the online library for Classical music is as broad today as that for any other type of music. Indeed, what’s available on-demand today makes even the best Classical specialty shops at the recording industry’s height pale by comparison.

The problem with Classical music in the digital age is discoverability. Discoverability is the ease of finding what you’re looking for. It should be as easy to find Beethoven String Quartet No. 7 with the Alban Berg Quartet as it is to find “Oops, I did it again” by Britney Spears, whether that’s on a streaming site like Spotify, a download site like Amazon, or using a digital assistant like Alexa.

Metadata

In the digital domain, discoverability all boils down to metadata. Metadata is information embedded in each music track that describes its context, such as artist, album, and track name. Each individual piece of descriptive information is called a metadata tag. While an infinite number of metadata tags can theoretically be included with each music file, the standard tags included with most music are…

· Artist (i.e., “Jason Mraz”)

· Track Name (i.e., “I’m Yours”)

· Album (i.e., “We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things”)

· Track # (i.e., “2”…the order of appearance on the album)

· Disc # (i.e., “1”…avoids the confusion of having more than one “Track 2” on multi-disc sets.)

· Cover Art (a thumbnail image of the album cover)

That’s pretty much all that’s needed to describe each track in an album, as well as the other tracks included in the album along with their intended order. Pretty simple, right?

But classical music is a bit different…a bit more complex. Who is the artist in Beethoven String Quartet No. 7 performed by the Alban Berg Quartet? Is it “Beethoven”? Or the “Alban Berg Quartet”?

And what is the album? Is it “String Quartet No. 7”? Or “Beethoven Complete String Quartets” — the collection of recordings in which the 7th quartet appears? What if the 7th quartet is paired on an album with something different — perhaps not even a string quartet? Not even Beethoven? Do we have to give the album a name? Does the album name, in that case, really tell us anything about what’s on the album?

Indeed, is the concept of “album” even relevant for Classical music? Unlike popular music where an album typically consists of songs either composed explicitly for the album or at least selected explicitly to be heard together, the individual movements in a Classical music composition are what are meant to stand together — such as the 4 movements (please don’t call them tracks!) in Beethoven String Quartet No. 7. It doesn’t really matter whether this quartet appears by itself or together with something else. Beethoven only intended the movements within this string quartet to be performed and heard together in order. It wasn’t his intention that this quartet be performed or heard together with any other composition, either his or others’.

Square Peg in a Round Hole

This simple pop music-oriented vision of metadata breaks down quickly with Classical music. But unfortunately, this is all the music industry knows. Or, perhaps more accurately, all the music industry really cares about since the vast majority of music industry revenues come from popular music.

The result is the digital equivalent of shoving a square peg into a round hole. What should go into the “standard” metadata tags when the concept of “album” is irrelevant? When the notion of “artist” can be defined in multiple ways (Composer? Ensemble? Soloist? Conductor? Orchestra?)? When the “track #” isn’t related to the movement number of the composition (why should anyone care that the 2nd movement of Beethoven String Quartet No. 7 is track 10 on the album)? When the “disc #” is no longer applicable in the digital age (a needless legacy holdover from the CD age)?

Indeed, search results can leave one perplexed!

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A few startups are working to tame this beast and bring classical music properly into the streaming age. Most notably, IDAGIO and Primephonic have created slick smartphone apps and handsome web sites dedicated to Classical music. And while it’s refreshing to have a platform that is cognizant, for example, that a string quartet with four individual movements is one composition, these sites still rely heavily on track-based metadata for search and display. The result is naming inconsistencies in the names of compositions and their movements across different recordings of the same piece, as well as naming inconsistencies across different compositions. These inconsistencies can significantly hinder search and discoverability.

Master Data

In relational database design, duplicating composer names, composition names, movement names, conductor names, and ensemble names violates the fundamental principle of “normalization,” whereby important master data is stored ONCE and referenced wherever applicable. If I store the composer name “Beethoven” in just one place and all files/tracks containing music by Beethoven reference that one place, I’m guaranteed to get “Beethoven” the same way every time…not “Ludwig Beethoven” or “Ludwig van Beethoven” or “Beethoven, Ludwig van” or “vanBeethoven” or “B’thoven” or any of the other seemingly random variations hand-entered by countless people at different times, in different places, with different conventions (or lack thereof), and different levels of attention. Instead, it’s listed exactly the same way every time. And even better, I can search for it in exactly the same way every time. This also significantly simplifies alternative user interfaces like voice recognition (think Amazon Echo, etc.).

Even with the new Classical specialists, discoverability remains a problem because of inconsistent metadata. Their efforts are unquestionably better, but the results are still not great. If I’m searching for Beethoven String Quartet No. 7, what information should be returned? That seems a simple question, but like everything else with Classical music in the digital age, it’s not without caveats. Remember that metadata is TRACK-based — it’s embedded with individual files. A search for Beethoven String Quartet No. 7, then, returns a list of TRACKS containing “Beethoven String Quartet No. 7”. (In the Album name? Or in the Track name? Hmmm…)

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But a list of tracks isn’t really what I’m looking for. I’m looking for a list of RECORDINGS of Beethoven String Quartet No. 7. (I already know that each recording will contain 4 tracks…er…movements.) Give someone a list of recordings and it becomes easy to find the version by the Alban Berg Quartet. This approach facilitates coincidental discoveries at the same time, perhaps like the classic recording by the Emerson Quartet, or the vintage recording by the Juilliard Quartet, or the hundred other recordings I didn’t even know existed.

Exploration

While I love the Alban Berg Quartet recording of Beethoven String Quartet No. 7, the “hundred other recordings” are important, too. It’d be interesting to compare the Alban Berg Quartet recording with that vintage Juilliard Quartet recording, or an even older Budapest Quartet recording, or, perhaps, with a recent recording by the Alcan Quartet. Has the interpretation changed over the decades? Have performing styles changed? Is there a difference between an American “style” and a European “style” of interpretation for this piece? Will I simply find a recording I like better than the Alban Berg Quartet recording of Beethoven String Quartet No. 7? Think of this like listening to different versions of, say, “Someone to Watch Over Me”, recorded by Frank Sinatra, The Platters, Willie Nelson, Amy Winehouse and Sting. You’re definitely going to hear something unexpected no matter how well you know the piece!

The ability to explore Classical music is key: explore different recordings of the same composition, or recordings of different compositions by the same composer, or recordings of different composers by the same artist. Exploration is different than discovery. If discovery is the ability to find what you’re looking for, exploration is the ability to find something new…something you didn’t know existed. It is exploration that keeps music alive and fresh.

But exploration is hard for Classical music in the digital age — particularly because discoverability is difficult. If it’s difficult to find what you’re looking for, finding something new is an effort in futility.

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Guilt by Association

A clear, unambiguous list of Classical music composers is a critical first step for exploration. This provides a “big picture” perspective of what (who?) is out there. There are a LOT of Classical music composers, though, so while a long list of names (perhaps sorted alphabetically) can provide a good launching point, it can also be overwhelming, particularly for those new to Classical music. (Where should one begin exploring when everything is unfamiliar, and all that’s available is a long list of unfamiliar names with no contextual information?)

Meaningful context can be created by providing the ability to associate composers with others who lived at about the same time or composed in a similar style. (Do you like Beethoven’s string quartets? Then you might try the string quartets of Anton Reicha, who lived around the same time.) Sorting composers by when they lived rather than just alphabetically is a good start. Filtering the list of composers by the “period” in which they composed (i.e., Baroque, Classical, Romantic, etc.) is also helpful.

Genre-related filters are interesting, too. For example, show all the composers who wrote string quartets. Combining filters extends the ability to create associations to increasingly finer granularity. For example, show all Classical period composers who wrote string quartets, or all Romantic period chamber music containing wind instruments.

Historical search filters are unheard of. Ever wonder what music was being composed at the time of the American Revolution? (Would you believe Mozart? Really.) It’s always mystified me why a timeline of music history hasn’t been widely and commonly paired with timelines of historical events or political movements or great artists and authors. The possible associations are endlessly fascinating!

Allowing users to explore Classical music by discovering associations with the music they already like can be like a superpower! And historical associations can make the music truly come alive.

A Change of Perspective

Rather than limiting our exploration to composer, we can flip the notion of “associations” upside down to apply to performers, as well. Since I (clearly) like the Alban Berg Quartet’s recording of Beethoven String Quartet No. 7, what else has the Alban Berg Quartet recorded? I’d love to see a list of composers and compositions that the Alban Berg Quartet has recorded, where it might interest me to discover that the Alban Berg Quartet has not only recorded string quartets by many different composers, but has also recorded some of the string quintet and piano quintet literature as well! (Hmmm…who else has recorded piano quintets? Which composers have written piano quintets? You’re probably getting the idea of the potential by this point…)

Exploring by performer opens up many additional possibilities: exploring by conductor (i.e., Georg Solti), by symphony orchestra (i.e., the San Francisco Symphony), by ensemble (i.e., the Alban Berg Quartet), by soloist (i.e., Lang Lang), by vocalist (i.e., Renée Fleming), and more dramatically extends the exploration superpower!

A Rose by Any Other Name

One fascinating area that’s completely overlooked by any method of characterizing Classical music (either today or pretty much ever!) is the transcription. A transcription is the reworking of a musical composition for different instruments than the original version. For example, Beethoven transcribed his own symphonies for piano. Ravel transcribed Mussorgsky’s Picture’s at an Exhibition for full orchestra from the original solo piano. (Ironically, it’s Ravel’s orchestral transcription that’s best-known today.) Shortly after World War I, Schoenberg and a group of friends (including Alban Berg and Anton Webern) transcribed numerous large-scale works such as Bruckner’s 7th Symphony and Mahler’s 4th Symphony and Das Lied von der Erde for a small chamber group in order continue to hear these great works performed in those lean and difficult times.

The list of transcriptions seems inexhaustible. They range from the conventional (orchestral works re-written for chamber ensemble) to the bizarre (Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring re-written for melodicas…yes, really!), but they’re always interesting and often compelling. To hear a familiar work in a new and unexpected way can reveal subtleties we’ve never heard and textures we’d never have expected! Sadly, however, transcriptions rarely appear even as a musical footnote. Discovering them among recorded music is random luck. But they enrich the musical tapestry, and for that, they deserve to be heard.

The Trouble with Opera

Don’t get me started about opera! I love opera, I really do, but its treatment in the digital era (since the advent of CDs) has been nothing short of a travesty! Let’s take the example of Verdi’s La Traviata, an opera in three acts that takes about three hours to perform (including intermissions). Let’s call that about 2½ hours of recorded music. Because La Traviata has three acts, you’d expect three “tracks” of music (ugh…must I go there?), with each “track” around 45 minutes long. But somewhere along the line, someone decided that it’d be easier to find your favorite aria if all the arias (sections?) within an opera were divided into separate tracks. That means a 3-hour opera with three acts becomes a 39-track nightmare (ironically, amidst which you still can’t find your favorite aria!). And because each of these tracks is explicitly NOT meant to stand on its own, rather, meant to be heard continuously without interruption, the people who write software for audio file playback needed to create and implement special provisions so there won’t be a break or “hiccup” between tracks. (Streaming opera was horrible in the days before “gapless playback”.)

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However, the practice of dividing opera into many tracks has roots in technology, not in musical appreciation. The Compact Disc format was explicitly designed to gracefully accommodate the ability to easily locate specific sections within much longer tracks (like operas) through the use of “indexes”. An index was a “sub-location” within a track that could be accessed simply by tapping in a number (presumably specified in the program booklet accompanying the disc) on the player’s keypad or remote. Sony included this indexing feature on early Compact Disc players, but, alas, the idea never caught on (mainly because it was only useful for opera, and opera, as it turns out, wasn’t what paid the bills) and hardware manufacturers quickly dropped the feature. To preserve the capability, content providers for recorded opera separated each index into its own CD track. This works fine when listening to an opera on CD, as there’s no gap between tracks. However, with streaming media, you can hear an audible blip as the stream shifts from one track to the next — even with software that implements “gapless playback.”

Dividing operas into a large number of tracks serves no purpose today — particularly when you can manually “scrub” modern media players to a specific time index within a recording. So why not re-unite La Traviata into its three-act (ahem…track) form and simply include the timing indexes of favorite arias and other notable moments within the digital album notes or libretto that accompanies the recording? Dividing operas into rather arbitrary tracks does not serve the music!

Bits and Pieces

Another interesting oddity about opera is that it’s often recorded not in whole, but in excerpts. A performer may record an album of “favorite arias” containing isolated, unrelated selections from several different operas; a choir may record an album of “great opera choruses”; an orchestra may record an album of, say, Wagner opera overtures and preludes. This is one of the few cases I can imagine where the concept of an “album” might remain valid in Classical music.

Still, it’s important to explicitly classify individual opera excerpts for a couple of reasons. The first reason is for discoverability. When searching for recordings of, say, Verdi’s La Traviata, we need to easily distinguish a recording of the full opera from a recording of an excerpt from the opera, such as the famous aria, “Libiamo nè lieti calici” from Act 1. This is a problem area for even the Classical music specialists. Searching for either the name of the full opera or the specific aria returns a confusing listing containing recordings of the full opera mixed with a myriad of excerpts, in no particular order, and with no clear way to tell the difference.

The second reason is for explorability. I’m a fan of the great soprano Renée Fleming, particularly her recordings with opera arias by Richard Strauss. She recorded a moving aria from the first act of Der Rosenkavalier where her Marschallin character sings, “Time is a strange thing. When we live from day to day, time means nothing. But then, suddenly, all we feel is time.” Who else has recorded this aria? If it’s just a track buried in an album, it’s hard to discover this. But if we catalog the specific aria as an excerpt from its opera, we’ve suddenly created the ability to explore who else has recorded it (Kiri Te Kanawa? Elizabeth Schwartzkopf? Felicity Lott?) and marvel at the individuality of their interpretations.

Same Song, Different Day

Another area for consideration is re-releases of “great” recordings. To promote sales, Classical record labels frequently re-release recordings that have been well regarded, particularly “historical” recordings. For example, many recordings of conductors Leonard Bernstein, Herbert von Karajan and Georg Solti have been re-released — some individually, others in collections (i.e., “Leonard Bernstein’s Columbia Recordings”) or compilations (i.e., “Great Russian Masterpieces”). But no matter how many times the recording of, say, Herbert von Karajan conducting Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony with the Berlin Philharmonic has been re-released, it’s still the same recording! It’s unnecessary to see five separate listings for the five current record label incarnations in search results. Granted, there “might” be some benefit in providing the ability to see the different incarnations of the same recording — particularly if there is something meaningful that distinguishes them like a special re-mastering. But in the end, if it’s the same recording, there should be one listing in search results.

A corollary to this is when an artist really has recorded the same work more than once. For example, Herbert von Karajan recorded the complete set of Beethoven symphonies four times: once in the 1950s with the Philharmonia Orchestra (on the EMI record label) and three times (in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s) with the Berlin Philharmonic (on the Deutsche Grammophon label). The ability to treat these differently in search listings is important, because the difference in interpretation at different points in the artist’s life are often significant.

What’s in a Name?

It’s also important to carefully consider how to handle composition names. Should Igor Stravinsky’s epic ballet score, Le Sacre du Printemps, be displayed in the original French, or translated as “The Rite of Spring” for the benefit of English-speaking listeners who don’t speak French? If displaying the title only in the original language, what should be done when the composer is from a country that uses a non-Latin alphabet? Will people recognize the name of a composition by Shostakovich if it’s only displayed in Cyrillic? Or a composition by Bright Sheng if it’s only displayed in Mandarin? Perhaps composition titles should be “localized” to the language context for every audience. Indeed, perhaps the title should be displayed in both the original language and its localized language. (Of course, then we must take care not to list the same thing twice: no need to have the title of a composition by British composer Edward Elgar listed in both the original language (English) and the localized language for an English-speaking audience!)

A Standard is a Standard is (not) a Standard…

Another consideration is the format of Classical composition names. For example, there are many (reasonable) variations of how to display the name of Beethoven’s 3rd symphony:

· Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 (Eroica) => The “fully loaded” composition name

· Symphony No.3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 (Eroica) => No space in “No.3”

· Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op.55 (Eroica) => No space in “Op.55”

· Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 55 (Eroica) => Lower case “m” in “major”

· Symphony No. 3 in E-Flat Major, Op. 55 (Eroica) => Upper case “F” in “E-Flat”

· Symphony No. 3 in Eb Major, Op. 55 (Eroica) => “Eb” substituted for “E-flat”

· Symphony #3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 (Eroica) => “#3” substituted for “№3”

· Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 “Eroica” => Quotes around name (no parentheses)

· Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 => Name omitted

· Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major (Eroica) => Opus number omitted

· Symphony No. 3 in E-flat, Op. 55 (Eroica) => “Major” omitted (it’s inferred)

· Symphony No. 3 in E-flat (Eroica) => “Major” and opus number omitted

· Symphony No. 3, Op. 55 (Eroica) => Key (E-flat major) omitted

· Symphony No. 3 (Eroica) => Key and opus number omitted

· Symphony No. 3 => Key, opus number and name omitted

These variations are the result of many factors, but all have one thing in common: they exist because there is no standard. Standards are ultimately important because they make it easier for listeners to assimilate at-a-glance a common set of high-level information about a composition. They also make text-based searches within a large catalog of music more reliable.

But do we really need to see “Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 (Eroica)” in places where display space is constrained? In such cases, existing systems would likely truncate the name so something like, “Symphony No. 3 in E-…” or wrap the text onto more than one line — which, frankly, is less than graceful. In such cases, a “short name” that uniquely identifies the composition can be employed, such as, “Symphony No. 3”. But, of course, this requires another standard!

And what would this look like for listeners in, say, Russia? Of course, as the “What’s in a Name” section above suggests, such standards need to be created for all localized language contexts.

The Devil in the Details

We’ve built up quite a list so far of the things that need to be considered in Classical music streaming. But for the sake of completeness, there are a myriad of additional details, as well.

Composer information — It is very helpful to know when a composer lived and where. This can help to group composers who lived around the same time and in generally the same area, or as a reference for graphical depictions of composers over time or geographically on a map.

Period in music history — Is the composition from the Baroque period or Classical or Romantic? (That’d be very handy to know!) Is it from the Early Romantic or Late Romantic? (Arguably materially different compositional styles.) Is it an Impressionist composition? (Technically still Romantic, but, again, a very distinct musical niche within that period.) The key is in providing some basic “lane markers” while facilitating broad musical exploration.

Musical form— Is the composition chamber music or a full symphonic work? Perhaps it’s a concerto…or is it a sonata? And we should probably distinguish between, say, a piano concerto and a tuba concerto. Again, the end goal is to facilitate exploration at the listener’s level of interest or knowledge.

Ensemble type — Is the composition written for, say, string quartet? Or brass quintet? Or perhaps, some other “standard” instrumental combination (i.e., piano trio)? How should “non-standard” instrumental combinations be handled? Does the recording use “period instruments” or modern instruments?

Composition date and location — Displaying the composition date can provide useful context about where a composition fits within music history. But should it be displayed as, simply, “1872”? Or “1869–1872” (many works were composed over several years)? Or the date of the first performance (assuming this occurred near when the work was composed)? Adding the location where the composition was created could be interesting, too (for example, to group J.S. Bach’s compositions by his Weimar period vs. his Leipzig period).

Composition and movement subtitles — For example, how would you display the sub-title of “Beethoven Symphony No. 3” (Eroica) or the final movement of “Mahler Symphony No. 3 - 6. Langsam - Ruhevoll - Empfunden” (What Love Tells Me)? Parentheses around the name? Quotes? Neither? On the same line? Or a separate line? For movements, before or after the tempo marking? Consistency is important.

Album art — Sure, but is the concept of an “album” relevant in Classical music? Still, a thumbnail picture to help distinguish the recording in user interfaces could be extremely helpful.

Program notes — Yes, please!!! It’s rare to find album notes in the streaming age. Why is this???

Link to additional information — How about a link to the composer’s Wikipedia page? How about some photos of the composer? Photos of the artist(s)? Link to artist pages?

Cast of thousands — Who beyond the “main” artists should be listed? Especially with opera, there are MANY possibilities! Where do you draw the line?

Record label, catalog number, release date — What’s the record company behind the recording? What’s their mechanism for uniquely identifying a specific recording? When was the recording initially released?

Recording venue and date — Where and when was the recording made?

Recording date vs. release date — In particular, we need to distinguish a recording that was originally recorded and released in 1963 from its descendant that was re-mastered and re-released in 2018. (Please, please, please don’t include this in the track title!)

Recording engineer and producer — Who engineered and produced the recording. The ability to filter by this information might be interesting, too. (Thinking of the great Classical record producer John Culshaw, who produced a great many recordings for Decca Records.)

Live vs. studio recording — Should there be a note indicating whether it’s a live or studio recording? If it’s live, will we hear applause? Coughing? Audience noises? Should there be a warning about this?

Related video — Is there a related video version? With increasingly rich media options today, why not manage both audio AND video recordings of Classical performances? There are LOTS video recordings of concerts, ballets and operas.

Digital format — Is the digital format MP3 or FLAC or AAC or something else? What’s the bitrate? Is the bitrate variable or constant? Is the recording mono or stereo (or, dare I say, quadraphonic)? Is the original recording digital or analog? Is this a remastering of the original recording?

Variable movement order — How to handle situations where a composition’s movements are occasionally performed in a different order, such as Mahler Symphony No. 6 where the 2nd and 3rd movements are sometimes reversed?

Different performing editions — Anton Bruckner, for example, modified his symphonies many times over the years, resulting in several different performing editions of each symphony…sometimes with material differences.

Re-orchestrations — Sometimes a composer would re-orchestrate another composer’s works. Gustav Mahler, for example, re-orchestrated Robert Schumann’s symphonies, believing that Schumann, a pianist, didn’t really understand the orchestra.

Missing pieces — How should a composer’s compositions that have not yet been recorded be represented? Should they be listed somewhere? If so, how should they be displayed to differentiate them from compositions that have been recorded? Indeed, would this encourage new recordings of these neglected works?

It’s All About the Data

Let’s summarize what’s been discussed so far. In the digital age, with virtually everything that’s ever been recorded available to us, discoverability is critical. This is especially so for Classical music. Discoverability leads to the ability to explore the depths and breadth of music. Exploration is enhanced through the ability to make associations. Associations can be made for composers (dates, musical periods, nationalities, etc.), compositions (string quartets, symphonies, chamber music, etc.), and performers (conductors, ensembles, orchestras, soloists, etc.). Along the way, making special provision for transcriptions (to tell the difference, for example, between the original orchestral version of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and the two-piano transcription) enriches our perspective and makes the familiar new again. Re-aggregating operas into acts (rather than fragmented into tracks) helps us listen to the music as it was intended to be heard. Explicitly accommodating opera excerpts such as arias and overtures allows easy access to favorites from the world of opera. And to ensure everything remains crystal clear, each unique recording gets one listing (no matter how many times it has been re-released), and it should be explicitly noted when an artist has recorded the same work multiple times (otherwise it just looks like duplicate listings). Whew…that’s quite a list!

So how do we do this?

We’ll explore that in Part 2, where we’ll discover it’s all about the data.

Copyright © 2020 by Dan Meier

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