Why Do We HAVE To Listen To These 1001 Classical Albums?

Over the weekend I came across a 1001 Classical Recordings You Must Hear Before You Die while venturing in my neighborhood library.  Although the book suggests some interesting recordings that we should in fact listen to, my wife, also a musician, and I started discussing, why should the opinions of a select few choose one recording per piece per composer?  If we think about the numerous recordings available for all the “classic” works by greats such as J.S. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, and Stravinsky, I have to ask how can a select few decide that a single recording is the “best” for a specific piece?  Granted, the book is a collaboration, but each selection is attributed to a single person.  So why should I, as a music appreciator, trust these select few?   

The fact remains that every individual is going to have a different appreciation for what they consider to be the best album for a particular work.  No one is going to question that Stravinsky conducting his own work, Symphony in C, is significant.  But, I happen to own a rendition of Georg Solti conducting the same work.  Shouldn’t Solti’s interpretation be heard before I die also?  There is value in listening to more than one recording of significant work.  If that wasn’t the case, then why are willing to go and hear the same works in concert over and over again.  I have heard Beethoven’s 5th symphony several times, each performed differently, which gave me a different experience with the same work. 

These music listening guides should only be viewed as recommendations that supplement our preferences and perhaps teach us something new.  We shouldn’t feel that each of our musical tastes are illegitamate because of a select few.  Instead, allow the “music experts” to provide us with suggestions of what to listen to next.  Of course, we also could learn about new works the old fashion way by going to a concert with a program that includes compositions from composers we are unfamiliar with.     

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5 comments on “Why Do We HAVE To Listen To These 1001 Classical Albums?
  1. I’ve been ranting against the reviews of something as a “definitive” performance for decades. There is no such thing as a definitive performance, or else all of us classical musicians could have found other careers decades ago! Each person hears different nuances in the music and interprets each piece differently.

    I’ve had first-year piano students come up with incredibly creative and even spine-chilling interpretations of remarkably simple pieces. Thank goodness most of us haven’t bought into the “definitive performance” hype or the world would be a much poorer place.

    I believe the 1001 recordings may have been meant to be, as you say, significant. That doesn’t mean they’re the best, or the right recordings of the works.

  2. This reminds me of a couple of things…

    a) I had an argument with one of our techies over which is the superior Beethoven symphony, #9 or #6. He goes for #6, I go for #9; while Ode to Joy has been tremendously overplayed, there are depths and heights of that piece which I believe are unequaled in any other piece of music. (Especially in the Ormandy/Philadelphia Orchestra recording I have.) He thinks I have an inferior recording of #6 and that it ruined my enjoyment of the piece. Listening to *his* recording, I agree: my recording was horrible.

    b) When I was in college, I bought a Pierre Boulez recording of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite that unbeknownst to me left off the Finale. (Which is like Beethoven’s 9th without Ode to Joy.) No wonder it was on sale.

    I understand the argument that there is no such thing as a definitive recording — but I think we can agree there are some recordings that are definitely not worth it!

    That’s one of the things I find frustrating about classical music, as well. With rock and pop, there’s often only one studio recording of The Police’s Roxanne. But especially for newbies, it’s daunting; not only does one have to choose from the different pieces, but the different recordings as well.

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