At this stage of creating A Year in Classical Music I’ve got a program list written out that details: how many episodes I’m going to devote to the year I’m studying, which composers I’ll feature in each episode, and the compositions those composers completed during the year in question. I’ve collected critically acclaimed recordings of all those compositions — sometimes there’s one recording that’s the clear favorite (or even the only recording available of a given piece), but more often I’ve got two or three highly regarded recordings of a piece to listen to and I’ll have to decide which one to recommend to you at AYICM.
This is the point at which I do biographical and historical research. I always start with the liner booklet essays in the CDs I’ve collected (it’s another reason to collect everything on CD and not via downloads: you often don’t get the musicological essays from the liner booklet when you buy downloads). These essays are often a treasure trove of background information about the pieces I’m studying, and they’re a good starting point for doing further research of my own. I use the music library in the Westbrook Music Building at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln to do this research. It houses a very good collection of biography and musicology, so I drive down to Lincoln about once a month to turn in my last pile of books and check out a new pile of them. Then there’s historical research, with which I look to relate the composers’ lives and work during the year in question to events and trends in world history. I can do much of this research online, though I’ll often cross-reference what I find in Wikipedia articles and other website essays with history books from the library as well, because I’m always a little wary of the thoroughness and accuracy of what I read on the internet.
I actually don’t listen to any of the music during this process of creating the first drafts of the AYICM shows. I do my critical listening when I return to the essay months later, to prepare a finished draft of it and get it ready to be recorded as a podcast.