Downloading the Classics
I only now had time to sit down and investigate the new classical music downloading site trumpeted in a Wall Street Journal article last week. Classical Archives is a corollary to Arkiv Music: where the latter touted itself as a site selling CDs only, and has only recently bowed to the inevitable by including downloads, Classical Archives is embracing downloads from the get-go.
The Journal article spent a lot of time going into the meta-data issue that has plagued classical-music databases since before the dawn of iTunes. (I know about this all too well, since I spent a year working for an iTunes predecessor called MusicMaker.com, and much of my time was spent tormenting my staff of data-enterers in an effort to come up with some kind of uniform way of cataloguing classical music so that you could search for it and find it on a site set up principally for pop music, a quixotic endeavor. I wrote about it briefly when iTunes launched a few years later, in an article which, amusingly, I ended by dissing iTunes's usefulness for providing classical music to non-aficionados -- the very area in which the service has proven to excel.)
The database issue is old news by now: every new classical music site claims to have solved it, and they never quite have. By chance, the very first name I clicked on in the artist listings of Classical Archives was the late great contralto Louise Homer (I had been looking for Manfred Honeck, who isn't yet included), and "her" tracks include two takes of "Celeste Aida," the tenor aria from "Aida," because Homer also sang a duet from the opera with Enrico Caruso, so her name is linked to his on this recording in the database. (For the record, if you click on the album page the track is labeled correctly; I think it just lumped together all of the "Aida" listings from the recording, which is devoted to Caruso excerpts.)
This proved to be an unfair introduction, however, because the database is a lot of fun. Parts of it seem a little basic - like the introductions to the nine periods, from Medieval to Contemporary - into which the site divides its offerings; visually, too, it's clunky (and it took me a few minutes to figure out that you can click on the Album tab under a composer's or artist's name to get a better idea of what's on offer than the simple track listings may provide). But it is another source for classical music - not that it's exactly alone.
There are, of course, free alternatives. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston announced this week that its ongoing podcast The Concert, which presents music from the museum's concert series at a rate of two new 45-minute episodes per month, just had its one millionth download.
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