Monday, June 27, 2016

Bestselling Classical

Amazon sent me an email linking to Bestselling Classical Music so I went to see what was on the top:

The cover doesn't list the contents, but I bet we can guess: Pachelbel's Canon, Mozart's Eine Kleine, Debussy's Claire de Lune, Albinoni's Adagio, Bach's Air on a G string and so on. Classical music has its own Top Forty and they don't change that much from year to year. If you want to see the whole list, which has no real surprises, here is the link. Hardly any composer has more than one piece on the list: just Bach, Beethoven and Mozart.

Let's give credit where credit is due: for most people it really is relaxing to listen to this music, in which they perceive the gentle beauty that is conspicuously lacking from a lot of pop music.

Speaking of Mozart, he is number two on the list:

Less easy to guess because a whole album of Mozart's greatest hits is going to go far beyond the usual suspects and once you do that, with Mozart at least, there are a host of possibilities. The list is on the back:

Click to enlarge
Lots of concerto movements, plus a movement from the "Paris" Symphony and a Fantasia for piano. Nothing really hackneyed here. They avoid the Eine Kleine and the "Elvira Madigan" concerto movement. You could put out dozens of albums of "Mozart for Meditation", all different. You know, the only objection I have to collections like this is that they are like eating a meal consisting of nothing but a whole bunch of different desserts, or salads, or vegetables. What Mozart always strove to do was offer a balanced diet: each multi-movement work had a vigorous quick movement, a touching slow movement and a rollicking dancing last movement with often a graceful minuet as well. Virtually every movement here is an andante, adagio or larghetto.

Here is the third best-selling:

Oh god, is Windham Hill still around? I thought they had disappeared long ago like the Passenger Pigeon or the Packard sedan. But no, alas. This is really miscategorized because there is nothing classical whatsoever about it. There is a lot of Jim Brickman, with a little Ludovico Einaudi at the end:

Shall I mercifully refuse to comment? Yes, I shall.

The next one is another "classics for relaxation" collection followed by the ubiquitous Vivaldi Four Seasons, but the next one is a surprise:

Wow, not only Shostakovich, but three serious symphonies on Deutsche Grammophon with an entirely respectable conductor and orchestra. The only gesture towards marketing I can discern is the album title: "Under Stalin's Shadow". And it is sixth on the list. Pretty good.

I'm still wondering why the Windham Hill is there. Is it simply because it doesn't have enough backbeat to fit comfortably in the pop section? Plus, tinkling piano?

I guess if I wanted to put out an album that "sells" I would pick the most soothing tracks and label it "Relaxing Classical Guitar". The question is, why would I not do that? Here is a piece that would definitely find its way into that collection:

UPDATE: Hey, I've figured out the secret. The most important thing is that the dominant color on the cover has to be blue!


Jeph said...

Lobotomy by sound....mmmmmmm.
yeah, I've also noticed that lately the culture is acknowledging that classical music specifically has this value, of providing relaxation and relief from our hectic, noisy, modern lives. Notwithstanding the Windham Hill intrusion, it would seem to me that the New Age side of the "relaxation niche market" is on the wane. These classical compilations are cherry-picked and sort of cheesy, but maybe they function to keep art music on the general public radar to some extent.

Ok, that's a start, I'll take it.

I like to think that deep-down, people are attracted to the order, the symmetry, the complexity.

Bryan Townsend said...

I hope you are right about the waning New Age market, but I'm pretty sure that while people are attracted to the order and symmetry of classical music, the complexity is only attractive to a small minority.

Marc Puckett said...

Here in Eugene the New Age market is flourishing, lest any despair. :-)

I saw Norman L. worrying the other day about the lowest classical sales ever according to Nielsen (no US release sold more than 100 copies); what actually made that stick in my head was his dismissive sneering at the fact that-- I didn't go look myself-- evidently two recordings of Gregorian chant by actual monks are at the top of 'the enfeebled sales chart'. I'm sure it can be argued that e.g. The Sixteen's version of XYZ may be in some ways superior to Abbey N.'s, but I just can't figure him out. And so it's possible that he wasn't indulging in 'dismissive sneering' &c: one of the many qualities of The Music Salon that I appreciate is that you, Bryan, write in straightforward English without continual, habitual recourse to the ironic mode, like the post-modernists do. :-)

But it has been very amusing watching Brexit make certain arts people (not to mention politicians &c) fall onto their fainting couches with much weeping, wailing, and lamentation.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thank you very, very much for the compliment on my prose style!

Reading the reactions to Brexit has been very illuminating, hasn't it?