I’ve spent the past year of my retirement, inconsistently but steadily, finishing ripping my entire classical music collection to my computer. The fact that I can get the nearly 800GB of FLAC files on a single disk is something that was way out of reach when I first began this process 20 years or so ago, but now I can squeeze it onto a microSD card. Such is technology.
With this music all in one place, I can listen to any part of it easily through my network computers, a digital to analog converter, and my bedroom stereo system. I know it is fashionable to have gone back to LPs and turntables these days, but I’ve never had any issue with CDs, not even the earliest, when it comes to classical music. Popular music is a different story, from poorly mastered recordings to artificially boosted loudness, the results can be very variable. But treating classical music digitally is entirely satisfactory.
What has become apparent, upon completing this task, is how comprehensive my collection has become. In the early days of CDs way back in the 1990s, I used the Penguin Guide to Classical Music as a source and sought out the highly regarded recordings irrespective of style or period. I followed up on this by chasing down composers and compositions that interested me. Consequently I have a nearly complete sampling of music from the earliest medieval polyphony to current post-modern compositions and in some cases the coverage is way beyond sampling, it is practically complete.
So what has this accumulation of a vast music library, way larger than I can ever really listen to in depth for the rest of my lifetime, taught me?
Firstly, there is no period of classical music that does not interest or involve me. I have no issue with any of the compositional trends from the very beginning up until today, they all contain masterpieces. All the arguments about modern versus old, or tonal versus atonal, or a canon of ‘great’ composers versus their lesser contemporaries simply don’t register; I have found music to love in every category.
Secondly, the progression of musical development over the centuries is in many ways the most fascinating aspect of following the art. And by progression I do not mean getting better, I simply mean becoming different as music, like all arts, mirrors the social climate of the times of its creation. It provides a window into a way to thinking and being that is often seemingly quite unlike from how we live today, yet sustains a constant thread of involvement with universal human emotions.
Thirdly, the enormous richness of musical invention throughout history acts as a counterbalance to the ever-compelling desire to focus solely on the times as they are today. It adds much needed perspective, allows me to separate myself from whatever absurd concerns seem to rule the moment, and regain balance.
Fourthly, I find it is true if not exactly fashionable that classical music is richer, deeper, more involving and more challenging than popular music. I’ve not stopped loving pop, rock or jazz – or indeed any of the now myriad sub-categories that seem to rule vernacular music – but it is not the music I go to when I want to become really involved in a work. I learned to appreciate much more than simply the sound of piece, the attractiveness of a melody, the verve of a performance. I find myself deeply drawn into structure, into harmonic interplay, into instrumental colours, into thematic development, all aspects of the art of music that classical music strives to explore more deeply than most popular music does.
It’s fair to say that I’m listening now more extensively and more deeply to music, and primarily classical music, than at any point earlier than my life. This is not insignificant; rock music in particular was an almost lifesaving soundtrack to my teens, same with jazz in my twenties. But even in those far off days I was listening to classical music and slowly developing the appreciations and sensibilities that I feel today. The completion of my transferring of my current collection has reacquainted me with what I have and stimulated new purchases to fill those always present gaps and holes, but most of all it has left me with a sense of near totality in my knowledge and appreciation of an art form that has involved me for most of my life.
That’s a very pleasant feeling.