Friday, August 3, 2012

Samplers, and starting out

For some reason, I hadn't noticed that Hyperion has been giving away monthly samplers for download on its web site for the last several months. So now I'm enjoying several months' worth of samples - because Hyperion seems quite unhorrified at the idea that it could be losing millions, if not billions, of pounds' worth of revenue from people downloading 5-month-old free tracks.
Ah, samplers. They were what helped me discover a lot of music in my early classical years (I posted about that ages ago), and the Hyperion ones are fine examples. But does anyone discover music (in the broad sense) in that way anymore? Back in 1992 - my early classical days and also, I'm reminded, the year that saw the launch of both BBC Music Magazine and Classic FM - there weren't many options. But these days you have Amazon selling the complete Mahler symphonies for download for under a dollar, not to mention various other huge collections of varying quality for relatively small change, and much of the difficulty of building up a decent-sized (and, for that matter, decent) classical collection has been eliminated. But maybe so has some of the fun, too.
A couple of weeks ago I bought, second-hand, David Hurwitz's Beethoven or Bust, a guide for the absolute beginner that was published in - hey! - 1992. His basic idea is that you don't need any significant understanding of music theory or history before you start listening and enjoying, which was certainly true in my case, but at the same time he spends much of the book pointing the reader in certain directions and warns against "the temptation to progress too quickly". Perhaps there's something to be said for simply getting 10 hours of Chopin for a tenner and seeing what works for you. But I like Hurwitz's idea better: listen to Chopin's √Čtudes along with those by Schumann and Debussy, and Bach's Inventions; listen to Chopin's Piano sonata no.2 along with Alkan's Grande Sonate, Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit, and Rachmaninov's Sonata no.1; and listen to Chopin's Preludes and Waltzes in the company of Debussy's Preludes and, most intriguingly, Alwyn's Fantasy Waltzes. I'd never even heard of those - words that in my mind always accompany the humble sampler.

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