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Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Twice cursed I am

When I say my collection of posh music CDs (excluding jazz, pop, and stand-up) amounts to “about 700” it sounds like boasting. And boasting would be in character. In fact it’s a potential admission of defeat.

Take Scarlatti. His complete keyboard works, played by the late Scott Ross, amount to (I believe) 460 works and I have the 16 CDs (could be more) which cover them. To my eternal shame I have only listened to a tiny proportion.

Shostakovich wrote fifteen string quartets. I have them all, confusingly by the Shostakovich Quartet, and as a late convert to old Dimitri I have played them several times. Great music but to save my life I couldn’t say to an apostle “Number four’s the one to get you started.” because they’re not separate in my mind.

I suffer from two related curses: (a) being comfortably off, and (b) the boxed set.

Faced with poverty and a love of Haydn I started off buying the symphonies two or three at a time on single CDs. In retrospect I’m glad I did. As a result of this gradual accumulation I can identify the The Surprise, The Clock and half a dozen others. Had I bought the boxed set (ie, 100-plus symphonies) I’d have risked blurring their individuality. I mean, where do you start?

Boxed sets are tempting because it’s comforting to know you have the lot. But they need treating with care; ideally one should choose and play just one work and then switch off. But human nature says: “Let’s just allow this marvellous stuff to play on.”

Boxed sets also tend to lock you into one source. OK in some instances, not in others.  I’ll get around to that later.

PS: The complete Mozart amounts to 170 CDs - but not for me. 


  1. For me there are two irritations with with CDs: firstly the works that go over onto a second CD necessitating changing over, and secondly that extra opus they include at the end of a major work just to fill up the CD. This means you have to fiddle about selecting the tracks you want to hear, or submit to listening to the minor piece which perhaps in your heart you really didn’t want to, immediately after listening to a particular moving work, which you selected because that was what you were in the mood for.

    I have now transferred a lot of my music onto the computer, and each individual work is separated and can be listened to easily and without fuss. This also gives you the opportunity to play the shorter pieces easily when you want, perhaps when time only allows for a quickie, or in some cases, not bother transferring them to the computer at all.

    Sounds like a lot of griping when you hark back to the days of vinyl.

  2. Too much of a good thing I suppose. I agree. They accuse you of not taking advantage of their completeness. And you don't in the end want to. Better, as you say, gain slow and loving acquantance with with individual works as your taste and purse expand.

  3. Sir Hugh: Wouldn't wish to hear Figaro contained on one disc.

    I agree about make-weights but is it really so difficult to select a track? With my amp I rotate a knob and the track numbers scroll up.

    Transferring music to computer. Does this mean you have to (a) accommodate your computer in your living room? or (b) listen to music in your computer room? Come to think of it, my HP tablet (a far less expensive alternative to the iPad) is tiny enough to store away in the living room. But then I'd have to buy another so that I can write legibly on trains and at the holiday villa.

    Plutarch: Boxed sets do have certain other advantages which I intend to post about later.