At a new year party I had an interesting chat with a young man who likes music and likes to listen to it at university along with his friends. He himself likes classical music among other kinds. Many of his friends are not familiar with the world of classical music, but are open-minded and willing to include it in their playlists if they hear something they like.
He made an thought-provoking point about the amount of information you need to find a piece of classical music on, say, Spotify (or other digital music services). The example he gave was the slow movement of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto, which he’d been listening to. Some of his friends had liked its slow movement, and wanted to add it to their playlists.
But in order to do that, they had to possess several bits of information:
1. Tchaikovsky (composer) 2. Violin Concerto 3. In D major 4. opus 35. 5. Second movement 6. Artist (eg David Oistrakh).
My young friend commented: ‘In pop music, it’s all about the artist. You start with them and it’s easy to find their songs. Even if they’re performing a work by someone else, it’s still categorised under their name. In fact, the original composer is often left off the identifying information.
‘In classical music, it’s the other way round. It’s all about the work. You can’t track it down by starting with the artist – unless the artist happens to have recorded the piece you’re looking for. If they haven’t, you’re stuck – or at least it’s more difficult to find it.
‘Even if you find the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, there might be a bunch of recordings by violinists you’ve never heard of. How are you to know which one is good? I’m not saying it’s impossible – I’m just saying it puts extra barriers in the way. It makes it hard for people to give it a go.’
It’s true, isn’t it, that in classical music it has been all about the work. And the works have complicated titles. I find myself thinking about this.