Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Digital Music Management Software for Classical Music

Stick figure confused by music note comprised of ones and zeroes

If you’re like me, you’ve acquired a substantial digital library of classical music.  I’ve still got shelves of CDs (and LPs), but to play music on a portable device or computer, you have to have it in digital form.  It’s easy to buy music in digital form (see, for example, my 99 cent wonders list), or you can convert the physical media you already have (called ripping; more on that another day).  But you need a program to build playlists to get the perfect music mix and to be able to search your music library for an item you want.

One of the most commonly used programs for this purpose is iTunes.  It can be used on Apple and Windows computers.  It’s fairly easy to use, it works efficiently, mostly seamlessly.  But there’s a problem:

It is not set up for classical music.

To be fair, many other music management programs aren’t either.  The market bends toward popular music, for which knowing the band or performer, album, and song is mostly sufficient classification.  For classical music, one might want to know the composer, soloist(s), orchestra, conductor, work/movement, catalog number…you get the idea.  You might want to make a playlist of works conducted by Carlos Kleiber, or compare the second movement of a symphony as conducted by various conductors (or the same symphony at various points in a conductor’s career, or with different orchestras).  But if that information isn’t in the database, the program can’t find those tracks for you.

Identifiers such as band, album, or conductor are known as tags, and they’re the key to being able to find the music you want in your collection.  Music management programs differ in the number and variety of tags they can accommodate.  Apple has been introducing changes to iTunes that make it more classical music-friendly, adding the ability to identify the composer, movement name and movement number.

If the program you’re using has the tagging capability you want that’s great.  But it’s not always the case.  There are ways to work around the standard template to include the information you might want about a recording, but, it’s not always straightforward.

Whether or not you’re an iTunes user, you might want to check out some of these digital music collection managers listed below.  Please bear in mind that this list is not exhaustive, and there are other fine programs that are not covered here, and more are being developed all the time.

Below you will find information on several music management systems that have received positive reviews in a number of classical music forums. The table includes software that seems particularly well suited to classical music and/or those with audiophile tendencies.  Additional programs which have received good reviews are listed below the table with links.  The programs vary widely in the platforms they support, whether they can handle video content or not, ease of use, features, and pricing.  If not free, all offer free trials.

Apple users have been enthusiastic about Swinsian—I don’t have a Mac, so I can’t comment on that.  MediaMonkey and Foobar2000 might be a little tricky to get the hang of at first, but once learned are very powerful music management programs.  MusicBee and Clementine are easier to learn and are very capable, very attractive programs.  Vox and Fidelia are audio players (for Macs) that appeal to audiophiles, offering tools from equalizers to compressors to fine-tune your sound.

J River Media Center makes it very easy to add whatever qualifying tags you want to easily identify and find your music.  The fact that it handles photos, videos, and more makes it very attractive.  It is one of the more expensive options, however.

For the ultimate in classical music tagging, you need to look at MusiChi.  The classification scheme is incredibly detailed, allowing identification of historical periods, instruments, and types of works (concertos, for example).  They have also built a database of composers, performers, and works that you can use to make sure your identifying tags are consistent. There is a bit of a learning curve at the beginning, but it is a very versatile program.  It, like J River, is one of the more expensive options.  But if you’re on a budget, you might consider buying just the tagging component, which gives you the database and the ability to edit your identifying tags for use in other programs.

So what am I going to use?  I haven’t decided yet, I’m still trying out several of these programs. Only you can pick the music management program that’s best suited for your needs.

If you’ve found programs you like and have worked well for you let us all know!

Program Mac?
Windows?
Linux?
Android?
Comments
iTunes Yes
Yes
No
No
Audio and video player, tagger, ripper, with iPhone, iPod support. Free.
Swinsian Yes
No
No
No
Versatile audio player and tagger with iPhone iPad support. Airplay support. Free trial; $19.95
MediaMonkey No
Yes
No
Yes
Powerful audio and video player, tagger, ripper, iPhone, iPod, Android support.  Generate reports and stats on your music.  Lots of customization available.  A great choice for the super organized (or those who want to be).  Not simple to master, but when you do, you can do almost anything. Free and paid versions ($24.95-49.95).
Foobar2000 No
Yes
No
No
Audio player, ripper, tagger.  Open source. There is a considerable learning curve, but once you learn to use it, it is an extremely powerful program. Free.
MusicBee No
Yes
No
No
Audio player, tagger, ripper with equalization tools. Customizable. Android and Windows Phone syncing. Easy to use, powerful.  Free.
Clementine Yes
Yes
Yes
No
An audio Swiss Army knife of a program.  Audio player that can also handle music in cloud storage, tagger, ripper.  Can work with iPhone, iPod.  Free.
J River Media Center Yes
Yes
Yes
No
Another Swiss Army knife program that handles audio, video, and photos.  Home theater features.  Extended network capabilities.  Audiophile quality sound. Comprehensive tagging.  Fast. Social media integration, phone, MP3 player support.  TV recording.  May be installed on more than one computer in your home. Free trial; $49.98-69.98.
MusiChi Yes, using VMWare Fusion, Parallels or Bootcamp
Yes
No
No
Audio player, tagger, ripper for the detail-obsessed classical, jazz, (or metal!) fan.  “Clean” database of composers, works, and artists to provide consistency in tagging for classical music and jazz.  Customizable interface.  Free trial; paid versions from $20 (tagger alone) to $52.69.
Vox Yes
No
No
No
Audio player that can handle hi-res sound.  Also available as an iOS app.  Sonos and Airplay support. Free.
Fidelia Yes
No
No
No
Audio player with audiophiles in mind, featuring equalizers and other audio tools to tailor your sound. Supports hi-res sound,  Airplay. Free trial; $29.99
Syncios device manager Yes
Yes
No
Yes
Not a player, but a useful device management tool.  Sync audio, video, contacts, photos, messages, documents from iPhone, iPod, iPod, and Android devices to Mac or windows PCs. Free and paid ($34.95) versions.
iMazing device manager Yes
Yes
No
No
Not a player, but a useful device management tool for iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. Save and transfer music, messages, files, and data.  Free trial; paid version $39.99-69.99

Some other free music management systems you might want to look at that have gotten good reviews:  Nightingale, Quod Libet, Tomahawk, VLC, Helium.

References

  1. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/07/the-tragedy-of-itunes-and-classical-music/399788/
  2. https://www.wired.com/2015/11/itunes-alternatives/
  3. http://www.macworld.com/article/3121662/software-entertainment/how-to-better-organize-classical-music-in-itunes.html
  4. http://www.kirkville.com/apple-is-finally-making-itunes-better-for-classical-music/
  5. http://www.idigitaltimes.com/itunes-alternatives-why-you-should-use-swinsian-listen-music-mac-imazing-transfer-493885
  6. https://www.howtogeek.com/280304/the-best-itunes-alternatives-for-macos/
  7. https://www.howtogeek.com/288254/the-best-itunes-alternatives-for-windows/
  8. https://beebom.com/best-itunes-alternatives/

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Image attribution: Drawing by C. Gallant, 2017.


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Free Concert Webcast: Berlioz, Sergei Prokofiev, and a New Concerto by Gabriel Prokofiev Featuring Branford Marsalis

Today, March 24, 2017, at 8PM EDT (GMT -5) the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will present a free concert webcast.  You can see the webcast here.  The program includes Love Scene from Romeo and Juliet by Berlioz, and the Suite from Romeo and Juliet by Sergei ProkofievAndrey Boreyko will conduct.

Also on the program is a new commissioned work by Gabriel Prokofiev, British composer and DJ, who is also the grandson of Sergei Prokofiev.  His Saxophone Concerto will feature soloist Branford MarsalisYou can read a little more about the composition here.

References

  1. https://gabrielprokofiev.com/
  2. http://www.branfordmarsalis.com/


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Medieval Women in Music: Trobairises

Comtessa Beatriz de Dia, medieval composer

Comtessa Beatriz de Dia, medieval composer

When I was researching my post for International Women’s Day, I came across a fascinating topic:  trobairises.

Trobairises (singular trobairitz) were female troubadours, primarily of southern France where the Occitan language was/is spoken, of the 12th and 13th centuries.  They are the first recorded female composers of secular music.  The names of about 20 trobairises are known, and around 32 works have been attributed to them.  These consist of only lyrics.  There is only one for which we also have the musical notation, A chantar m’er by the Comtessa Beatriz de Diá.1

Here is an image of the manuscript

Music manuscript of A Chantar by Beatriz de Dia

Here is a link to an a capella performance.

You may hear it here with instrumental accompaniment.

The earliest work attributed to a trobairitz, a woman named Tibors de Sarenom, is Bels dous amics, for which only the words survive.  This song dates from around 1150.2

The name of only one female composer of this period from northern France is known (in northern France, a troubadour was known as a trouvère; there is no female counterpart to this term).  Marie de France was active in the period 1160-1215, and it is believed she did her writing in England.3  Texts of her poetry, the Lais of Marie de France, may be found in an English manuscript of the 13th century (coincidentally, this same manuscript also contains the song Sumer Is Icumen In, long held as the oldest secular song in English).

Here you can find a list of known trobairises with links containing more information about them.

[Postscript:  I thought the absence of female trouvères was odd, so I dug a little deeper.  I turned up a book, Songs of the Women Trouvères, which documents eight named female trouvères, and a wealth of songs and motets that may have been written by women.]

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trobairitz
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tibors_de_Sarenom
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_de_France
  4. Bruckner, Matilda, Shepard, Laurie, and White, Sarah, Songs of the Women Troubadours. Routledge, 2000. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0815335687/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0815335687&linkCode=as2&tag=medievalistsn-20&linkId=VQVFQAAVBQ6O5IVH

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Image attribution: Image of Comtessa Beatriz de Dia, [public domain] Bibliothèque Nationale, MS cod. Fr. 12473, via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=342295.  Image of A chantar m’er, [Public domain] Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, fr. 844 via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_chantar_pg._1.jpg and https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_chantar_pg._2.jpg


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Haiku Wednesday: Fauré’s Requiem

Sunbeams over landscape

Fauré’s Requiem
Gently, quietly leads to
Light, out of darkness.

Light, rest, and mercy,
Fulfillment of promises,
A message of peace.

“Eternal rest grant
To them; let perpetual
Light shine upon them.”

And when Fauré passed
From this realm of sweet music,
They sang it for him.

Fauré’s Requiem is comforting, meditative, and utterly unforgettable.

Like Brahms’s German Requiem, there is a gentleness in its approach.  Brahms focuses on comforting the living, and Fauré focuses on the concept of eternal rest.

This gentle sound is achieved in several ways.  The orchestration is not for a huge ensemble: in addition to a choir and vocal soloists, the original 1888 version called for an organ and string section, with optional inclusion of tympani and harp.  That’s it.  A few more instruments were added in a later version, but this is not an earth-shaking, vast orchestra.

This is also a quiet work.  While there are a few measures that are loud,  forte or fortissimo (f and ff), there are many more that are soft, piano (p) or softer (pp and even ppp, which is nearly whisper soft). Fauré notates these dynamics meticulously.  In the first movement, the choir sings the word “exaudi,” “hear” (my prayer) loudly—and then immediately repeats it very softly, which is brilliant, as the quiet repetition brings even more attention to the word.  Because it is overall quiet, when Fauré does increase the volume, it has a great impact—listen for it.  There are points at which the choir sings with no (or minimal) orchestral accompaniment (for example, the beginning of the second movement), and this has a particularly dramatic effect (and may be slightly terrifying for the amateur chorister).

Another way in which Fauré achieves this gentle, soothing tone is through his melodies and harmonies.  Some of the melodies could easily be interpreted as lullabies, and Fauré said that someone had called his Requiem a “lullaby of death” (as an aside, can you imagine actually telling the composer this?).  And throughout the piece, the harmonies shift subtly, with wonderful chromatic touches to word-paint the text.

Are you a chorister learning the Requiem?  There are several resources available on the web.  Parts videos are available on YouTube.  You might also want to look at the ChoralPractice website.  Once you register (for free) you can access your part of the Requiem and hear it sung by a person.  The site allows you to adjust the balance between your part and the other parts and you can repeat a loop for those passages you find tricky.  The sheet music scrolls as it is performed so you can follow it.  If you need to listen away from your computer, you can purchase and download mp3s of your part, sung by a person, from the Rehearsal Arts website.

You can also find sheet music for the Requiem here and here.  And there are many great audio recordings of this work available for purchase.

A search of YouTube will yield many viewing choices, as well as audio accompanied by a scrolling score (here’s one conducted by John Rutter).

Here is a fine performance of Fauré’s Requiem by the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Concert Choir, with soloists Roderick Williams (baritone) and Sylvia Schwartz (soprano), for your viewing pleasure.

References

  1. Requiem (Fauré) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Requiem_(Faur%C3%A9)
  2. Choral Music Notes: Gabriel Fauré Requiem in d, Op. 48, http://www.jamescsliu.com/classical/Faure_Requiem.html
  3. McKendrick, Ryan Parker, A Conductor’s Analysis of Gabriel Fauré ‘s Requiem, Op. 48http://scholarworks.gsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1001&context=music_theses
  4. Gabriel Fauré : Requiem, http://www.classicfm.com/composers/faure/music/requiem/
  5. Program notes for Fauré’s Requiem, https://www.sfsymphony.org/Watch-Listen-Learn/Read-Program-Notes/Program-Notes/FAURE-Requiem,-Opus-48.aspx
  6. Scherer, Barrymore L, “Fauré ’s Requiem in Chamber Form,” The New York Times, December 8, 1985, http://www.nytimes.com/1985/12/08/arts/faure-s-requiem-in-chamber-form.html

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Image attribution: Sunbeams over landscape, [CC0 Public Domain] via https://pixabay.com/en/sunbeams-sky-clouds-landscape-691635/


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Free Webcast Concert: Berlin Phil, Mehta, Zukerman Play Tchaikovsky and Elgar

On Sunday, March 12, 2017 at 3PM EDT (8PM in Berlin, UTC -4) the Berlin Philharmonic will present a free concert on its website.  The concert will feature Zubin Mehta and Pinchas Zukerman, and the program will include Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony and Elgar’s Violin Concerto.   The concert is a benefit concert for UNICEF.


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Haiku Wednesday: Women in Music

music note with feminist symbol (ankh) below

They threw away half
Of all the great music that
Might have been written.

They threw away half
Of all of the great music
That could have been heard.

No time to write for
The hand that rocked the cradle
And maintained the home.
No baton left for
A matron, mom, or maiden
On the podium.

For lack of training
And of opportunity
We lost their voices…
Nearly—just a few
Managed to break down the walls
And make themselves heard.

Today is more than
Women’s Day—it’s time to rise,
Conduct, play, compose.

Today is International Women’s Day.  You may see any number of articles on Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, maybe even Hildegard von Bingen or Amy Cheney Beach.  You can follow the links to articles on each of these remarkable women in this blog.

Women were traditionally underrepresented in classical music.  What’s the situation now?

If you look at an old photograph of any orchestra, you’ll see a sea of tuxedos, and not a woman in sight (wait…maybe there’s one hidden behind the harp).  Look at a current photo, and you’ll see some women in the orchestra.  So, progress is being made.  But you’re still unlikely to find an equal distribution.

When we turn to the topic of female conductors, everyone first thinks of Marin Alsop—and then perhaps there is a long pause.   However, journalist Jessica Duchen has compiled a list of over 100 female conductors.  Duchen includes links to the conductors’ websites as well as brief bios, and these are fascinating.  But if we can name only one out of a hundred, there is still a long way to go.

Sadly, a search using the words “women classical music soloists” yields articles with titles containing the words”hottest,” “sexiest,”  and “pin-ups”…and I’m going to be ill now.

While there may be more women composers now than in previous times, a 2014 study11 found that women constitute only 15 percent of composition faculty in the top 20 music schools in the United States.  More than half of these schools have no women among the composition faculty at all.  Women constitute less than 15 percent of living composers whose works are presented by orchestras and in new-music series.11

So…

Are things better than they were?  Yes.

Has the problem of underrepresentation been solved?  No.

We still have a long way to go, but the progress that has been made is somewhat encouraging.

Below you will find a number of articles on this topic that may be of interest.

References

  1. Gregory, Alice, “A History of Classical Music (The Women-Only Version),”  The New York Times, December 2, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/12/02/arts/music/01womencomposers.html?_r=0
  2. “The Great Women Composers,” Classic fm, http://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/latest/great-women-composers/
  3. Rivera, Jennifer, “Where Are All the Women in Classical Music?” The Huffington Post, September 21, 2016 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jennifer-rivera/where-are-all-the-women-i_1_b_12095342.html
  4. Tsioulcas, Anastasia, “What is Classical Music’s Women Problem?” NPR Classical Deceptive Cadence, October 9, 2013 http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2013/10/09/230751348/what-is-classical-musics-women-problem
  5. Pentreath, Rosie, “9 of the Best Contemporary Female Composers,” Classical-music.com, March 8, 2017 http://www.classical-music.com/article/six-best-contemporary-female-composers
  6. Cooper, Elinor, “10 Female Composers You Should Know,” Classical-music.com, March 8, 2016 http://www.classical-music.com/article/10-female-composers-you-should-know
  7. Duchen, Jessica, “Why the Male Domination of Classical Music Might Be Coming to an End,” The Guardian, February 28, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/feb/28/why-male-domination-of-classical-music-might-end
  8. Tilden, Imogen, “’This is not a woman’s issue’—Tackling Conducting’s Gender Problem,” an interview with Marin Alsop. The Guardian, February 6, 2017 https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/feb/06/this-is-not-a-womans-issue-tackling-conductings-gender-problem
  9. Beer, Anna, “The Sound of Silence: Classical Music’s Forgotten Women,” The Guardian, April 2, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/02/sound-silence-classical-musics-forgotten-women-caccini-strozzi
  10. Elizabeth, Jordannah, “10 Black Female Women Composers To Discover,” https://bitchmedia.org/post/10-black-female-women-composers-to-discover
  11. “Her Music: Today’s Emerging Female Composer,” WQXR, August 20, 2014, http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/her-music-emerging-female-composer-today/


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Free Webcast: Wagner’s Entire Ring Cycle

stick figure singing opera on a television with a viking helmet for an antennaGot plans for the weekend?  I have a suggestion:  binge watch a tale of greed, forbidden love, death, revenge, and apocalypse.  And the soundtrack is incredible!

BBC Arts and The Space are presenting for free online viewing performances of the operas in Wagner’s Ring cycle produced by Opera NorthHere’s the trailer.

It is available worldwide at this link. There are English subtitles.  Each of the four operas is presented separately, in case you don’t have a spare 15 hours straight to watch the entire cycle.  Here’s where you can find out more about each of the four operas in the cycle and the performers.  Here is the trailer for Siegfried.

In the reference section, you can find some fine websites that provide an introduction to the Ring before you embark on this epic journey.   Here is the Southbank Centre’s animated guide to the Ring.  And I particularly like this 2 1/2-minute video in which the Sydney Symphony Orchestra tells the story of the Ring.

I hope you will enjoy the Ring!

 

Postscript–because someone is bound to ask.  For those of you (in particular, Americans of a certain age) who can’t hear Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries without thinking “Kill the wabbit,” here’s a link to the Bugs Bunny cartoon “What’s Opera, Doc?”  In addition to using Ride of the Valkyries, the cartoon borrows from Wagner’s opera TannhäuserYou can read about it here.

References

Wikipedia:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Der_Ring_des_Nibelungen

“Wagner’s Ring Cycle: Where to Start” http://www.classicfm.com/composers/wagner/guides/wagner-ring-cycle-where-start/

This website from the University of Michigan will help you learn more about the symbolism used in the Ring cycle http://www.umich.edu/~umfandsf/symbolismproject/symbolism.html/Teutonic_Mythology/ringsum.html

Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s guide to the Ring https://youtu.be/AgzZ_nLOJJE

Southbank Centre’s animated guide to the Ring https://youtu.be/ykQ7jc09OAk

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Image attribution: Stick figure singing opera on a television with a viking helmet as an antenna, C. Gallant, 2016.