Eat up your Beets
June 2, 2005 5:35 PM   Subscribe

"This, as never before, is Beethoven for free - a gift to the world, just as he might have wished." From Sunday, the BBC will broadcast Beethoven's entire musical output over a six-day period, with all nine symphonies offered as free (and DRM-free) MP3 downloads. By doing so, critic Norman Lebrecht argues that the BBC Philharmonic's cycle may become 'the household version to computer-literate millions in China, India or Korea who have never heard of Karajan or Klemperer.' What that might mean for the struggling classical recording industry is anyone's guess.
posted by holgate (41 comments total)
Somewhere Schroeder is rejoicing.
posted by jonmc at 5:38 PM on June 2, 2005

Is this Noseda chap any good? I ask because a friend once gave me a CD of the BBC SO playing Symphony no. 5, and one of Carlos Kleiber conducting the same piece, to demonstrate the importance of conductors. The difference just leaps out the speakers.
posted by bonaldi at 5:46 PM on June 2, 2005

Too bad it is only MP3, but wow, that is why I love the Beeb. PBS and the Beeb are under fire, but they are the top of the media peak right now, not for commercial appeal, but for quality. Yeah, they represent the cultural elite. Thank God someone does. How much time can one really spend staring at boobies on FOX?
posted by caddis at 5:47 PM on June 2, 2005

Thanks so much for the heads up. I'm looking forward to this.
posted by iconomy at 5:50 PM on June 2, 2005

I'm on this like quonsar on cake.
posted by keswick at 5:52 PM on June 2, 2005

This sounds fabulous.

Meanwhile, I live here in the 10th largest US city, with no classical radio station.

Thank heaven for net radio.
posted by pmurray63 at 5:54 PM on June 2, 2005

[This is good]

I wish they'd do some of the sonatas as mp3s too, but the symphonies will certainly do...
posted by graymouser at 5:56 PM on June 2, 2005

Terrific! Thank for the heads up.
posted by LeeJay at 6:07 PM on June 2, 2005

How has this not already happened? It's not like this music is still under copyright...
posted by mek at 6:07 PM on June 2, 2005

[Ode to BBC]
posted by Gyan at 6:19 PM on June 2, 2005

By doing so, critic Norman Lebrecht argues that the BBC Philharmonic's cycle may become 'the household version to computer-literate millions in China, India or Korea who have never heard of Karajan or Klemperer.'

Information freedom as being the key to establishing a new de facto canon. Sounds great to me.
posted by DaShiv at 6:20 PM on June 2, 2005

Odd that they're only hosting the files for a window of a week. But then, I suppose they're not, their goal isn't to physically host the files, but rather to provide definitive-quality and DRM-free recordings.

Someone should give them a quick primer on bittorrent.
posted by Simon! at 6:21 PM on June 2, 2005

posted by ludwig_van at 6:22 PM on June 2, 2005

It doesn't look bad at all, but I won't be listening in myself as I have a lot of Beethoven, courtesy of my Dad and my own collection.

In case anyone wants recommendations, I can't recommend enough both the Dohnányi and Klemperer symphony cycles - both are different and worth listening to in their own right.
posted by tomcosgrave at 6:23 PM on June 2, 2005

Way to go, BBC.
posted by ori at 6:27 PM on June 2, 2005

Am I alone in thinking that the digital music revolution will be the death of classical music?

The reason that it endures is that fans are always looking for the next great performance. Before recording, every time you heard the 9th, it was something entirely new and different. Like eating the same dish, but prepared by different chefs every time.

When recording first started, well, it wasn't as good as being there. And there were still a load of great conductors making records in between the live performances which were their bread and butter.

But now, we have a number of problems. Less people going to see concerts live means less truly great conductors, putting out less great recordings. Most people feel that the definitive recording of their favorite piece already exists. And they own it. And now that we have the technology to take older recordings and clean them up and make them new, there's really no reason to buy another copy again.

(I'm as guilty of this as anyone. I'm so in love with my Bernstein-conducted 'Rite of Spring' that I doubt I'll ever purchase another version of it. And why would I? Why would anyone?)

So I'm afraid this will continue. Classical collections will become more narrow; people won't bother going to concerts; performers and conducters will get less proficient; and thus people will never have a reason to buy any new recordings.

And this disturbs me greatly, but I can't see any way at all of fixing it.
posted by InnocentBystander at 6:37 PM on June 2, 2005

InnocentBystander, it's true that the fidelity of the recordings has improved over time, but that doesn't mean that the value of experiencing a performance has diminished. Your argument is similar to that used affected parties since the player piano was invented.

Personally, I suspect that the long tail effect will start to take, and people will start to discover the more 'fringe' classical music. There's only so much of The Four Seasons (yes, Vivaldi, not Beethoven) that a planet can handle, and people have wider tastes (and the desire to share them).
posted by lowlife at 6:58 PM on June 2, 2005

Damn you jonmc, stealing my line!
posted by Robot Johnny at 6:58 PM on June 2, 2005

"Download all nine of Beethoven's symphonies here the day after they are broadcast."

Anyone have a theory as to why the BBC is doing this ghetto load balancing? I thought they had more bandwidth than God.
posted by majick at 7:14 PM on June 2, 2005

InnocentBystander: I don't think we really know yet. (My last link is to a blog that offers a truly informed perspective on classical recording and performance in the MP3 age. The author feels the same way.) Some conductors regard the decline of the DG hegemony as a kind of liberation: John Eliot Gardiner, for instance, has set up his own non-profit label for a set of Bach Cantata recordings that DG decided not to put out. If people buy them, he'll release the full set. If not, they'll go to academic archives.

The mood right now among classical performers seems to be 'we're screwed already, so why not try something new?' New distribution channels, new approaches to funding, subscription models, etc. Since classical music is either subsidised or barely self-sufficient in the first place, there's actually greater room for innovation than with major labels needing to find the next million-seller. Better access to professional editing and production equipment also allows for a (marketable) attention to detail that wasn't possible in the DG days.

The Beethoven Experience, though, is straight outta Lord Reith. The last time Radio 3 did something close was their Bach anniversary series a few summers ago. I'm also impressed by the web presence, which is a testament to the room to innovate at the Beeb's Radio & Music section. Now, if some of the older R3 archives could be opened up...
posted by holgate at 7:22 PM on June 2, 2005

Releasing these as mp3s won't do that much harm. Classical is where quality actually makes a difference. I could not tell the difference with almost all the pop I listen to, but even I can pick the difference between an mp3 and good CD.

InnocentBystander & lowlife: It is about the long tail but there is more to it than that. What would really get people back into classical music is if there was something new. Hopefully the new digital proliferation and ease of content creation will lead some genius in some back room somewhere to write some really great new music.
posted by sien at 7:28 PM on June 2, 2005

This is great news. Thanks, holgate.
posted by soyjoy at 7:34 PM on June 2, 2005

A brilliant, related piece from the New Yorker: 'The Record Effect: How technology has transformed the sound of music':

Twenty years ago, the American composer Benjamin Boretz wrote, “In music, as in everything, the disappearing moment of experience is the firmest reality.” The paradox of recording is that it can preserve forever those disappearing moments of sound but never the spark of humanity that generates them. This is a paradox common to technological existence: everything gets a little easier and a little less real. Then again, the reigning unreality of the electronic sphere can set us up for a new kind of ecstasy, once we unplug ourselves from our gadgets and expose ourselves to the risk of live performance.
posted by holgate at 7:37 PM on June 2, 2005

One of these days I'm going to put on my suit and tie and go see a live symphony, maybe in Minneapolis.

I like classical music when I hear it (some moreso than others) but what I've wondered is how do you know which conductor doing his thing with which symphony is worth purchasing?

With rock it's easy. If you want "I Feel Free" you go buy a Cream CD. Maybe somebody will cover it but more often than not the covers are not as good, or are more gimmicky than the originals.

Beethoven's 9th for instance has been done a million times, other than dumb luck how do you pick out the best, or one of the best examples?

As far as new classical goes, check out Frank Zappa's Yellow Shark.
posted by substrate at 7:40 PM on June 2, 2005

But what will Metallica say?.....

I second the bittorrent comment. I use it A LOT! I got 6.5 gig's of Ludwig a few months ago actually.
posted by a3matrix at 8:03 PM on June 2, 2005

substrate: how do you pick out the best, or one of the best examples

Is Zappa considered classical? What I did before when I wanted to get into classical music was I picked a few composers who I already had an appreciation for, and then searched out recommendations on the web, top 10 cd lists, that kind of thing. People who are really into classical music know it really well, and they love posting news about their favorite CDs.

You're right to bring it up though because I think whether you're into classical music or not, if it's a lousy performance of a piece, it's going to be a waste of time trying to enjoy it. A lot of these bargain bin classical cd's are pretty bad compared to what's available.
posted by nervousfritz at 8:27 PM on June 2, 2005

any idea what the bitrate is going to be on these? if it's less than 192, i'll just rip cd's from the library.
posted by Igor XA at 8:39 PM on June 2, 2005

All classical, all the time. Listener supported streaming audio from Portland, Oregon FM station KBPS.

Check around the website until you find the Listen Online button
posted by Cranberry at 10:48 PM on June 2, 2005

How has this not already happened? It's not like this music is still under copyright...

The music is not, but the recordings are.
posted by mosch at 10:55 PM on June 2, 2005

I ask people who know more than I do, when buying classical music.

But when they aren't around, I buy Naxos. My ear isn't fine enough to hear very good from extremely good, and Naxos finds very good orchestras and performers, often lesser known, but highly skilled. And the CDs are $6.99 to $13.99 CND. :)

The definitive version for everyone will be different. My favorite "Four Seasons" is by John Harrison, a music professor and violinist who plays in a baroque style. It's a rougher sound than some others I have heard, but I love that - it's so passionate.

Actually, his performance is now linked as ogg files at wikipedia, under a creative commons liscence. Mp3s are available here.

(No, I don't just like "The Four Seasons" - I have 1 GB worth of Vivaldi on my iPod right now. He's my favorite eighteenth century composer, though Telemann is really starting to grow on me.)
posted by jb at 11:42 PM on June 2, 2005

Information freedom as being the key to establishing a new de facto canon. Sounds great to me.

Now I would argue that one of the reasons that the canon became canon is because anybody with a press could churn out a copy without paying royalties. But really, I think we really need a Project Gutenberg for music.

On a related note, my father is the director of a musical ensemble and if you think the issues surrounding what you can do with musical recordings are tricky, dealing with sheet music and musical performance for compositions made in this century are a nightmare.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:16 AM on June 3, 2005

I wonder what bitrate the MP3s will be? Hopefully at least 192k. Otherwise there will probably be complaints (regardless of free status, classical music aficionados are often audiophiles...not so much out of fanaticism, but necessity).

Considering that (allegedly) classical music determined the original specs for the compact disc, it was only a matter of time before something of this nature happened. (Of course you still have the people who insist that it's not worth listening to unless you have 180-gram audiophile vinyl on a temprered glass-platter turntable...or something like that.)
posted by deusdiabolus at 1:35 AM on June 3, 2005

deus - anyone that picky should just get themselves to a live performance.

That's why I've never worried about quality too much - I listen to classical mp3s ripped to 128 KBS, but all I have are headphones. And if I really wanted to hear the music as it was meant to be, I would get myself out of the house and down the road. I am totally spoiled, I realise - there is a music graduate school where I am that offers several free concerts a month. (The new compsitions concert was very good.) But you'd be surprised what there is about.

Do orchestras offer pay what you can days, like theatres?
posted by jb at 8:33 AM on June 3, 2005

okay, so what's the best beethoven symphony then?
posted by mokey at 11:31 AM on June 3, 2005

Thank you, Holgate! And, great to see you posting here again!!
posted by sillygit at 11:42 AM on June 3, 2005

mek writes "How has this not already happened? It's not like this music is still under copyright..."

The performances of that music are though.
posted by Mitheral at 12:06 PM on June 3, 2005

jb, if you like Vivaldi, check out Francesco Durante, who - at least in this Concerto Koln performance - makes Vivaldi's motor rhythms sound positively anemic.
posted by soyjoy at 1:15 PM on June 3, 2005

What's the deal with BBC listing "iPod Sunday" in their 'Jargon Buster'? I'd never heard it before and a Google search reveals that not only is it not a common term, it's actually never been used anywhere on the internet (except on this page, of course).

But they're presenting it like it's a standard digital-music terms that everyone needs to know lest they look embarrassed when talking to their 'wired' friends. I think someone at the Beeb is trying to popularize their own phrase - the "swingin' on the flippity flop" of our generation...
posted by Gortuk at 3:46 PM on June 3, 2005

This is awesome, thanks for the heads up. If someone manages to snag them all, a torrent would be much appreciated. But I'm going to try.
posted by blendor at 10:35 PM on June 3, 2005

To avoid having to ask friends who know more than me about which recording to buy, I generally turn to the excellent Gramophone Magazine - their GramoFile reviews database is invaluable and extensive.

Shameless classical newsfilter - if you have some spare cash, please consider throwing a few pennies to the UK's Hyperion Records, which has been crippled by a grasping musicologist and a wrong-headed appeal judge. They have an excellent online listening room - high-quality mp3s and realaudio files of some excellently recorded, fascinating repertoire.
posted by paperpete at 3:21 PM on June 4, 2005

Ugh, need a torrent so bad!
Got the first one in 20 minutes, subsequent files going at 3+ hours... sigh.
posted by prostyle at 8:07 AM on June 9, 2005

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