I started by thinking I had plenty of music in my own collection to program these shows. They’d be a commentary on classical music history from my perspective as a collector. But just to be sure I wasn’t missing any great pieces, I started looking around for different composer lists and at books and websites that contained this sort of information. What if I wrote a series of shows for a year in the later 1800s and missed, say, a great solo piano piece by Brahms that wasn’t in my collection, but was known to a great many pianists who listen to A Year in Classical Music? I’d never hear the end of it — it would be like doing a podcast about the Star Trek episodes from a given season and leaving one out. (Let’s not kid ourselves, classical music connoisseurs; we’ve got every bit as much of a nerd factor going. The difference is you can get a degree in music, but not in Star Trek.)
Anyway, I’ve collected a number of different composer lists, and have been compiling my own lists, too, as I find out about minor composers from different eras. (I’m especially interested in building thorough lists of late-20th and early-21st century composers. The shows I do on music in our own time will be of great interest to me — classical music is not only in the past-tense.) When it’s time to compile a works list for the next year I’m going to feature, I go through the lists I’ve got chronologically. The first year I studied was 1926, and I began with the old guys. If he wasn’t dead by ’26, I checked to see if he wrote any music that year. This is where The Oxford Encyclopedia of Music and Musicians comes in. It’s all available online now, and this allows me to go a composer’s works page and run a control-F search for the year I’m studying. (Every once in a while, a composer’s Wikipedia page or fan page will have a more complete works list than Oxford’s.) So I go down the composer lists and cross-reference them with Oxford until I get to composers who were only 17 in the year I’m studying. I scan a little further down for any prodigies who may have produced music in their teens, too. I don’t worry too much over the teenage composers from each year, though. The Mendelssohn Octet only happened once.