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Free music resource: classical music on the Internet

I haven't posted here in a while. Part of the reason for that is that I've been all over the place musically in the last little while. I was on a brief metal kick, at which time I had at least half a dozen albums and artists that I wanted to post about. I thought about even making a series of metal posts, but I couldn't really make up my mind which one to start with. I'm sure I'll eventually get back to that, but for the time being I may as well make a post about what has really caught my fancy lately: classical music.

I've tried to get into classical music before, as it has always felt like something I "should" be listening to, especially as a fan of progressive rock: for example, the complex, multi-part arrangements of bands like Rush, Yes, and Dream Theater would seem to owe a lot to classical music; Trans-Siberian Orchestra's rock opera Beethoven's Last Night, a long-time favourite album of mine, relies heavily on the music of Beethoven and other famous composers; and I have long enjoyed the pairing of rock groups with orchestras as the likes of Metallica, KISS, and Dream Theater have done. I've tried, but could never seem to make a serious effort to get into it until now.

My current fascination with the genre stems from playing the "Mii Maestro" mode of Wii Music. This little game allows you to conduct a virtual orchestra by using the Wii remote as a baton. Among the pieces that can be conducted are Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" (a small section from the finale of his 9th symphony) and Vivaldi's "Spring" (one of the movements from his "Four Seasons" concerto). I had listened to the full versions of both of these pieces before, but pretending to conduct them sparked a new interest in me to give them another listen. I have also been back to working on my PhD full-time these last few weeks. I have generally found that instrumental music works better than vocal music when I am doing any sort of reading, so this provided a great reason to check out some more classical music.

Fortunately, there are plenty of places to download free classical music on the Internet, so you can easily start (or perhaps augment) your own classical music collection without spending a dime. The purpose of this post will be to point out a few of these sites.

The first such site I've found is called Classic Cat, which is actually a directory with links to thousands of classical performances. The home page contains a list of the top 100 composers. Clicking on a composer's name (I'll use Beethoven as an example) brings up a page with a list of works that can be freely downloaded. This list can be sorted in a variety of ways, including Name (the default), Genre (e.g. Ballet, Concerto, String Quartet, and Symphony), Year, and Popularity. I have found sorting by Popularity to be extremely useful, as it can be quite intimidating to be faced with a list of dozens of pieces and not know where to start. After the name of each piece, a series of numbers and letters in parentheses indicate how many performances of that piece are available, the approximate length of the longest performance, and whether or not any video is available. Clicking on the name of a piece (e.g Symphony No. 8 in F major) brings up a page with information about that piece, including the name and approximate length of each movement. Further down the page is a list of MP3s available; information here includes the name of the performer, the movements included in the performance (sometimes you will see "complete" here, meaning that the entire piece is available; other times only a few movements will be included), and a link to a page where you can download the actual MP3s.

There is such a wealth of material that can be found on Classic Cat that, so far, I haven't felt much of a need to look elsewhere for classical music downloads. A couple of additional sources that I have found useful are Musopen and, surprisingly, Wikipedia. The files on Wikipedia are ogg files; if you don't know how to use ogg files, there are instructions there. The main thing I've used Wikipedia for so far has been a complete performance of Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons", which I could not find anywhere else.

I hope that this brief introduction to free classical music on the Internet has been useful to you. I would also really love to know what anyone's favourite classical music is. I have not yet branched out too far from Beethoven, but I would really love to explore more of the genre, so knowing what other people like can often be a big help in looking for new music. Have fun, and happy listening!


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