Creating AYICM: Reading Music Criticism

So many more composers were active in any given year than just the famous ones.  It didn’t take me long to abandon a completist conception for A Year in Classical Music.  Even in the early 1800s or late 1700s when there were far fewer active composers (given the much smaller world population), there’s no way for me to cover everyone.  No way to even come close.  So in this phase of creating the shows I narrow the works list I’ve compiled down to those pieces of which I can find critically acclaimed recordings.  I consult the Gramophone and Penguin guides to classical recordings, as well as the Third Ear guide and Jim Svejda’s The Insider’s Guide to Classical Recordings.  I look around on,, and the different dowload sites too, though — occasionally I find a review written by a customer of one of these sites that’s more helpful than those by the professional critics.  Very often there’s more than one highly regarded recording of a piece, and consulting these many sources of music criticism helps me choose between them.  When different critics with different tastes and backgrounds are unanimous in their praise of certain recordings, those are the obvious ones to focus on.  Still, though, reading music criticism typically only narrows the choices down to three or four recordings.  I listen to all of them and decide which one I like best.  In a sense, then, creating A Year in Classical Music is a way for me to try to make a living listening to classical music.  Here’s hoping!  If I can make a career out of it, then by a few decades from now there won’t be much I haven’t heard.  I think that to come as close as you can to listening to all the great classical recordings before you die is a good purpose in life.

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4 Responses to Creating AYICM: Reading Music Criticism

  1. Indeed. Incredible just how vast the grand collective of music being written is at any given point in time; only trumped by the mind-blowing fact of just how exponentially it grows with each year. Thanks for getting something like this project going… I’m definitely staying tuned. 🙂

  2. Comment by Wenda made on November 13, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    Brian, this is very cool. I am looking forward to learning from your vast collection and knowledge! Thank you, Wenda

  3. Comment by Jules DeSalvo made on November 22, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    I have to say, when it comes to evaluating different performances, I find myself, fairly or not, attracted to higher quality recordings. Recordings from the marine band in the early 1900’s still rock my face off, however.
    With the focus shifting from higher quality to lower file size (so you can fit all that LMFAO onto your phone) I fear that many people today may not realize what they are missing.
    How much does the recording quality effect your opinion of the performance?

    • Brian Linnell Comment by Brian Linnell made on November 23, 2011 at 2:40 am

      All other questions aside, I prefer to have the most recent recordings in modern, demonstration-quality sound. Totally agree with you. Now and then there are very old performances that are so much better than more recent ones in terms of interpretation that they’re preferable despite the poor sound reproduction — Furtwangler conducting Bruckner symphonies back in the ’40s and ’50s, for example. But timbre and texture are immensely important for classical music, even in solo piano playing but especially in orchestral music, opera, etc., so unless an older interpretation reveals the meaning of a score far better than anything available in modern recorded sound quality, my preference will be for the recent recordings. And besides sound quality, I think it will help to build interest in classical music amongst newcomers if they realize they can go hear the performers I talk about live and in person.

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