By Zoë Lang
This post addresses a topic that I’ve hoped to write about for a while: resources for listening to classical music online. I’m planning to stick to resources that are free (no iTunes) and accessible to anyone (no Naxos/Classical Music Library) as well as not potentially infringing on copyright (YouTube). For this post, I will discuss three of my favorites and welcome you to submit others. I’d like to investigate other possibilities for listening online, so please feel free to comment and leave more suggestions.
It is truly humbling to think about the sheer quantity of music that is at our fingertips today. Think about what was available a mere hundred years ago, when one had to rely on either what was playing at their local concert hall (and/or discussed in newspapers), what was in piano arrangements, or what could be studied in scores. Today, we can simply pull up whatever we want from some digital resource and investigate it, making copies onto our hard drives for future hearings. This freedom is unprecedented and astounding.
And yet, how many of us truly take advantage of this potential? It can be equally easy to fall into ruts, simply listening to the same pieces (or composers) as always. Even though I want to expand my knowledge of pieces, it becomes difficult to know where to begin. The same freedom of choice is also constricting in this respect. Attending concerts of an adventuresome orchestra can help redress this problem as well, but many groups are canon perpetuators as well. Also, unless one subscribes to a season, it is easy to fall into the trap of only attending concerts with favorite works, rather than seeking the new.
What I like about the following three resources — apart from the fact that they cost nothing — is the fact that they all encourage the listener to go beyond his/her knowledge of repertoire and explore new works. They do so by making access easy and providing a wide variety of choice. Also, from my experience, all are reliable (they don’t crash often) and have good quality performances. Here are my top three:
1) Klassik auf Klick from SWR 2. I subscribe to this weekly podcast and am alerted to a new recording every Monday from the SWR 2 archives. These recordings are available for free download for that week and can be heard at any time from the SWR 2 website. While these performances can feature canonic composers and works, they also explore lesser known pieces and composers. Either way, it’s a very convenient way of learning new repertoire when it simply appears in my Google Reader once a week. I do my best to keep up with the recordings, even listening to pieces that I (think I) know. For instance, recently Mendelssohn’s Trio in d minor was featured, which has never been one of my favorite works. The first movement is featured in the textbook that I use for teaching my music history survey and it never clicked with me. But the second movement — now that one I liked! Had I not listened to the recording, I wouldn’t have known about it at all, barring accidental attendance at a concert at which it was featured. I will admit that I often find myself loading Beethoven’s Opus 18, no. 5 for the umpteeth time, but I am pleased that this service makes it so easy to also hear works I don’t know.
2) The Schoenberg Center website. Apart from providing digital archives of the Schoenberg Center holdings and creating fun YouTube videos, the Schoenberg Center has also managed to make recordings easily accessible for all of Schoenberg’s works on their website as a ‘Jukebox.’ This is great! I find that it’s one of the easiest ways to get to know new works and explore pieces you might not know otherwise. If you are not familiar with the Schoenberg Center website, and especially the Jukebox, then I highly recommend that you investigate (and if you haven’t already seen that YouTube video, seriously, you really should).
3) Carnegie Hall Commissions. I stumbled upon this website accidentally once when I wanted to learn more about David Lang’s Match Girl Passion. Much to my surprise, not only did I learn more about this piece, but I could also hear the entire work online, for free. The same goes for most of the pieces that have been commissioned for Carnegie Hall since 2006. That is a whole lot of new music by many of the most influential composers working today. For free. There are also biographies of the composers and a wealth of interesting works. I especially liked Evan Ziporyn’s Sulvasutra, but I would encourage you to explore and find your own favorite.