It is time to gather together the paperwork needed to submit my tax return. Glass of wine in hand, on a dark and stormy night, I decide the most appropriate listening material to accompany this task is Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana.
I have this piece on CD but long ago I copied it to iTunes, so I could then also copy it to my iPhone—because after all, one never knows when one will need to listen to Olim lacus colueram. As I am sitting in front of the computer, I open iTunes and scroll through the list of artists. No Orff. No Carl. (Contemporary bands and artists are listed alphabetically by first word or name; thus David Bowie is found under D and Iron Maiden under I). I switch to album titles. Still no Carmina Burana. Finally I give in and do what I should have done at the start: I use the search function. Finally, Orff is located!
For you see, my recording of Carmina Burana is in fact filed under artist: Gundula Janowitz, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Etc.; Eugen Jochum: Deutsche Oper Orchestra & Chorus and album: Orff: Carmina Burana. (I should have thought of that one). I consult the CD booklet; of course, Gundula Janowitz is the soprano! I smack my forehead—Gundula Janowtiz, a household name if ever there was one! I should have known to look for Carmina Burana under the first name of the soprano who is one of the soloists in this particular recording of a piece that also features a full orchestra and choir, plus many other soloists!
This, alas, is far from unusual. It appears that those who produce classical music recordings have yet to really, truly understand the concept of “metadata” and the ways in which clever, logical metadata can aid sorting, discovery and classification. For example, the “artist” field for many of my recordings of Beethoven’s symphonies is occupied by the name of the conductor (Herbert von Karajan, Carlo Maria Giulini etc) while others are ascribed to “various artists” and yet others to Beethoven himself, but under L for Ludwig.
iTunes does have a “composer” field, this often does contain the name of the actual composer. It does not appear in the default browsing view, however. And anyway, shouldn’t the “artist” be the composer, the one who actually wrote the piece? This appears to be the case for everyone else, whether you are David Bowie, The Savages, Dolly Parton or Hans Zimmer. The performers of classical music are no doubt artists themselves, but they would better be listed under the field “album artist”.
And yet this is not the only crime of classical metadataists. Take track listings, for example. I would argue that a track listing should not begin with the composer’s name (fortunately they do not tend to include the composer’s first names here)—if I am browsing by song title I expect to find A Midsummer Night’s Dream under “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, not “Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. And we shall not speak of those who do not provide any track description at all, merely numbering the tracks consecutively, for they shall surely be roasted on a spit like the unfortunate swan in Olim lacus colueram.
It is not good enough. If the publishers of classical music cannot conform to modern labeling practices they have nobody but themselves to blame for the eventual disappearance of classical music itself. It shall be on their heads, and the ghosts of Orff and Beethoven and all the rest shall haunt them till the end of time.
ALICE CANNON, MELBOURNE