Classical Music Library

By Cary, Paul | Notes, June 2004 | Go to article overview

Classical Music Library


Cary, Paul, Notes


Classical Music Library. Published by Classical International. http://www.classical.com (accessed 4 March 2004). [Requires and audio-enabled computer with an Internet connection. Microsoft Windows users need Windows 98, Internet Explorer 5.5 or Netscape 6, Macromedia Flash Player 6, and Windows Media Player 7 (Internet Explorer users only). Macintosh users need Apple OS9, Internet Explorer 5.2 or Netscape 6, and Macromedia Flash Player 6. Library subscriptions begin at $995 annually for three simultaneous users.]

Music librarians and their patrons have for some time been anticipating the availability of networked audio, the ability to offer a wide selection of recordings accessible from any computer. Many libraries are networking audio reserves, and some larger libraries are making parts of their general recording collections available online. Yet for many libraries, large-scale networked audio is still a dream. Classical Music Library is an attempt to provide this service in the area of classical music. Such a service needs to be evaluated in several areas--depth and breadth of repertoire, quality of performances, usability, sound quality, and value.

As of this writing, the service boasts fifteen thousand tracks, "benchmarked against the Music Library Association listing of essential sound recordings"--that is, A Basic Music Library (Chicago: American Library Association, 1997). The service is continually adding new recordings, and this number will almost certainly be out-of-date by the time this review is published. What does fifteen thousand tracks mean, though? What repertoire is covered, and in what depth? One must first realize that this is the number of tracks, not musical works. As with compact discs, most works are allotted one track for each movement.

Selecting Medieval Music from the list of periods yields seventy-three works, comprising ninety-four tracks. Many of these are very short selections of Gregorian chant (offertories, introits, and others), but the list also includes some traditional tunes, and works by Hildegard von Bingen and Guillaume de Machaut. Conspicuous in their absence are Perotin, Leonin, Dunstaple, and Du Fay. At the other end of the chronological spectrum, the twentieth century brings up a list of over two hundred pages, including several thousand tracks. The century is not broken down chronologically or stylistically, so this list ranges from Debussy and Rachmaninoff to Stockhausen and Xenakis.

In between there is a wealth of repertoire with some notable holes. In general, as one might expect, major composers fare better than lesser ones. For example. Beethoven is represented by 762 tracks and Johann Sebastian Bach by 713. Isaac Albeniz, though, is represented by only three individual movements, with no complete work. There are twenty-seven tracks of Aaron Copland's music, including some of his most well-known works (Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid), but no symphonies or songs. Looking more closely at Beethoven, one finds that most of his major works are included. There are at least two recordings of each of the symphonies, one of each of the string quartets, and one of each of the piano sonatas. All but two of the piano trios and most of the songs are missing, and--perhaps most significantly--Fidelio is also not included. There are some major works missing from the lengthy J. S. Bach list: the orchestra suites nos. 1, 2, and 4; all but a few of the cantatas; the St. Matthew and St. John Passions; the Christmas Oratorio; and the suites for violoncello and for lute.

Opera seems to be a weakness in coverage. There are many operatic excerpts, but few complete operas. Verdi is represented by Otello only, and Mozart by Don Giovanni. There are no complete operas by Donizetti, Puccini, or Wagner.

Of course one cannot expect comprehensiveness from a single audio service, particularly not at this early date. Some libraries will be able to expand their available repertoire of recordings, but the service should not generally be viewed as a replacement for an established collection of sound recordings. …

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