My digital music collection: Classical music

July 25, 2008

Yesterday I reviewed a few details about my now-digital popular music collection.  In this post I look at my classical collection.

I started to become interested in classical music about ten years ago, and either because I had too much money as a graduate student, or just because I didn’t spend any of it on beer, my collection grew by leaps and bounds.  Today it covers most of the core repertoire (certain exceptions are noted below), and a good deal of the “non-core” repertoire that most interests me.  To be honest, I have far too much music; it would take me an awfully long time to listen to it all.  Still, to have all of this music in digital format and accessible with a few keystrokes is really wonderful.

I have scanned my CDs at a relatively high bit-rate (192 kbs).  Some contend that serious music-lovers don’t debase the music by digitizing it, even at a high bit-rate.  I make a distinction: there are music-lovers who are music-lovers, and there are music-lovers who are audiophiles.  I am firmly in the former camp, and I really don’t mind.

Here are some interesting (to me) facts about my classical music collection:

Total Duration: 80.4 days

Top Ten Composers, by Duration

10. Claudio Monteverdi (43.2 h): Mainly madrigals, operas, and, to my surprise, seven recordings of his monumental Vespro della Beata Vergine, 1610.
9. Franz Schubert (48 h): A full cycle of his piano sonatas (Kempff), along with many lieder and chamber recordings.
8. Benjamin Britten (48 h): Most of the operas, many discs of choral and vocal music, two recordings of the mighty War Requiem.
7. Dmitri Shostakovich (49 h): Piano and chamber music, together with two full symphony cycles (Barshai; Haitink), and two (nearly) complete string quartet cycles (Emerson SQ; Borodin SQ).
6. Anton Bruckner (51 h): Symphonies, mostly, including three full cycles (Jochum / Berlin Philharmonic; Tintner; Celibidache).
5. Gustav Mahler (53 h): A few recordings of the songs, but mostly symphonies, including two full symphony cycles (Chailly; Gielen).
4. Ludwig van Beethoven (70 h): Symphonies, including one cycle (Karajan, 1963), three string quartet cycles (Quartetto Italiano; Talich SQ; Busch SQ); piano sonatas.
3. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (96 h): One full symphony cycle (Pinnock), plus piano sonatas, string quartets, and lots of opera!
2. Anonymous (127 h): Good old anonymous nearly topped the charts.  He contributes mostly chant and other monophonic melodies.
1. Johann Sebastian Bach (146 h): The Passions, Mass in B minor, the keyboard works, a complete cycle of organ music (Herrick), seven recordings of the Goldberg Variations (Gould (x2), Perahia, Leonhardt, Hewitt, Schiff, Egarr), and a whopping ten recordings of the cello suites (Casals, Schiff, Wispelwey, Starker, Rostropovich, Isserlis, Linden, Fourier, Mørk, Queyras).  When you’re the best, you’re the best.

Distribution by Period

Medieval (8%)
Renaissance (13%)
Baroque (15%)
Classical (9%)
Romantic (22%)
Modern (33%)

This distribution surprises me; I would have expected a greater weight on earlier music.  I am especially affronted by the prevalence of romantic music, which is the period I like least, but on reflection I expect its bulk is due to the sheer volume of music produced by Schubert, Bruckner, Liszt, and Wagner.  I am also a little startled to see that nearly one-third of my music is “modern” — roughly speaking, “since 1900″.  But on reflection it makes sense: there are a fair number of modern composers whose music I greatly enjoy and have collected with enthusiasm: Britten, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Pärt, Messiaen, and others.  Part of me wishes that the Medieval and Renaissance periods were better represented, but their slender weight is a fair reflection of the relative amount of this music that has been recorded.  There just isn’t that much of it.

Distribution by Genre

Chamber Music (11%)
Choral (27%)
Concerto (4%)
Solo Instrument (17%)
Opera (10%)
Orchestral [non-symphonic] (7%)
Symphonic (14%)
Solo vocal (11%)

This is roughly what I would have expected.  Choral music is my favourite genre, and it is the best represented.  In fact, vocal music of one sort or another makes up nearly half of my collection (by duration).  I think that value would be considerably lower for most music collectors.

Most Obvious Gaps

Beethoven: Piano Concerti – There are five of them, and I don’t have a single recording of a single one.
Bach: Brandenberg Concerti – Why I have never acquired a recording of these pieces is not clear to me, but I have by now acquired a kind of affection for this gap, and I’m reluctant to close it.
Dvorak: Symphonies - There are nine of them, several of which are much beloved, but I haven’t any of them.
Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire – Well, maybe I’ve been avoiding it.

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9 Responses to “My digital music collection: Classical music”


  1. Yes, Bach should definitely be at the top. My collection might break out similarly as far as period is concerned.

    I wouldn’t call myself an audiophile, but I’m definitely very sensitive to sound quality. I find high-quality mp3 entirely acceptable.

    I love Pierrot Lunaire. Not entirely sure why, but I took to it instantly, when I was first discovering classical music.

  2. cburrell Says:

    When I say I’m not an audiophile, I don’t mean I’m indifferent to sound quality, but I’m certainly not in the same sensitivity league as some people I know. I have higher expectations in choral music than in instrumental, and when it comes to symphonic music I actually prefer a little popping and scratching in the background. It makes me feel I am listening over a little radio to a concert taking place far away, and this imbues the experience with a wonderful romanticism. It only works with symphonies though.

    I remember that you wrote approvingly of Pierrot Lunaire. I may get there eventually.


  3. Willing to expand your music listening horizons to include lesser known black classical music composers on CD? There are more than 150 and they span centuries and continents.

    Take a look at the website CD listing. Let me know what you think.

  4. Adam Hincks Says:

    Craig, compact discs are already digital. All you are doing is resampling.

  5. cburrell Says:

    As I was writing, I reached at one point for the word ‘analog’, and realized that it was wrong. Of course CDs are digital. But I pressed on anyway. What word should we use to describe music that does not reside on a particular physical device like a record or a CD?

  6. cburrell Says:

    Mr. Greene, thank you for your suggestion. I am certainly not averse to listening to black composers, though I don’t recognize many of the names listed on your site. I do have some music by Scott Joplin and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, so that is a start!

  7. KathyB Says:

    Aha! I have absolutely no knowledge of pop culture music outside of the years 1989-1991 (the only years of my life in which I vainly tried to be “cool”, before realizing the futility of this endeavor), and so was eagerly awaiting your classical list.

    Surprisingly, I think we own more Mozart than you do.

    I approve of Bach being at the top, however, it is definitely remiss not to have any Brandenburg concertos. Once you fill in the gap, you will thank me for chiding you. In fact, Brandenburg #2 in F major has been running through my head for the better part of a decade. It’s that catchy.

  8. cburrell Says:

    Well, Kathy, I know that it’s a big gap, and perhaps one of these days I won’t be able to avoid hitting it. I’m bracing myself.

    You can’t possibly have more Mozart than me. He’s number three on my Top Ten, and, as your husband so astutely pointed out, albeit with mild exaggeration, I have 935,536 CDs in my collection. When I listed the music, the list wasn’t meant to be exhaustive. It’s the time that matters, Kathy, the time.


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