Classical music and tagging

Pop music is called pop music because it is popular.
Classical music is not pop music because it is not popular.

 

Most interfaces are designed with pop music in mind.
You can browse your collection in all kind of ways: artist, album, song, genre but often not by composer.

 

An artist makes a couple of songs. They are released on CD.

Album Artist Title

Freak out

 

 

 

Frank Zappa

 

 

 

Song 1

Song 2

Song 3

Etc.

 

In classical music things are in general a bit different

Often there is more than one composition on an album e.g. two sonatas each which four movements.

Often there is work by different composers on an album e.g. string quartets by Schumann and Brahms.

 

Album

Composer

Composition

Movement

String quartets

by Schumann

and Brahms

Schumann

 

 

String quartet no.1

 

 

1 Allegro

2 Adagio

3 Menuetto

4 Finale

Brahms

 

 

 

String quartet no.1

 

 

 

1 Allegro

2 Adagio

3 Menuetto

4 Finale

 

We have one level more and often media players don't support the composer tag.

There are many solutions to this problem.

First movement

A common one is to add the composition to Title.

This is what a lot of internet databases like FreeDB do.

 

Album

Artist

Title

String quartets

by Schumann

and Brahms

Schumann

 

 

String quartet no.1 - 1 Allegro

String quartet no.1 - 2 Adagio

String quartet no.1 - 3 Menuetto

String quartet no.1 - 4 Finale

Brahms

 

 

 

String quartet no.1 - 1 Allegro

String quartet no.1 - 2 Adagio

String quartet no.1 - 3 Menuetto

String quartet no.1 - 4 Finale

At least the composition is documented a bit.

 

Sometimes this is only done for the first movement. If you do a search on “Schumann String Quartet” you won’t get the entire composition but the first movement only. This can be solved by adding the composition to each movement but I do think it is a bit untidy.

Splitting

Do you care what is on an album?
I don’t. I’m interested in compositions not in a more or less arbitrary decision by a record company about what to fit on a CD given its size.
Simply split the album in individual compositions by replacing the album title.

 

Before you do, you can copy the album title to another tag e.g. Comment or a custom tag (if the media player supports this) like Original Album to preserve this information.

It is convenient to have the original title at hand if you want to do a manual album lookup in an online database.

 

Album

Artist

Title

String quartet no.1

Schumann

 

 

 

Allegro

Adagio

Menuetto

Finale

 

Album

Artist

Title

String quartet no.1

Brahms

 

 

 

Allegro

Adagio

Menuetto

Finale

 

By doing so you come a bit closer to the “pop model” and you have a nice overview of all the compositions.

The downside is that you get as many albums as there are compositions.
If you have all Beethoven’s piano sonatas by Wilhelm Kempff but also by Vladimir Ashkenazy you have 2 x 32 = 64 albums.

If you want to do a manual internet database lookup, it will fail most of the time as these databases expect an entire CD.

Custom tag

Often media players allow for custom tags.
You can create one like Composition.

Album

Artist

Composition

Title

String quartets

by Schumann

and Brahms

Schumann

 

 

String quartet no.1

 

 

1 Allegro

2 Adagio

3 Menuetto

4 Finale

Brahms

 

 

 

String quartet no.1

 

 

 

1 Allegro

2 Adagio

3 Menuetto

4 Finale


If the interface allows for it you can browse your collection by Composition just like you use Album.
In this scenario you preserve the original value of the album but your custom tag might not work with other media players e.g. a portable.

An example using custom tags can be found here.

Composer and performer

In all these examples the Artist tag is used to store the composer. This is an often recommended practice simply because a lot of media players don't support the composer tag. This is a bit ridiculous as anybody familiar with classical music knows, the performer is a crucial element too.

The best solution is to get a decent media player supporting the composer tag and use the artist tag for the performer.

 

An option is to use the Album Artist tag for the performer.

 

Album Album Artist

Artist

Composition

Title

String quartets

by Schumann

and Brahms

Alban Berg Quartet

Schumann

 

 

String quartet no.1

 

 

1 Allegro

2 Adagio

3 Menuetto

4 Finale

Brahms

 

 

 

String quartet no.1

 

 

 

1 Allegro

2 Adagio

3 Menuetto

4 Finale

 

Even if you have a media player supporting the composer tag, your portable might not.

The moment you sync to the portable you have a problem.

 

Today a lot of media players do support the composer tag.

Album Album Artist

Artist

Composer

Composition

Title

Schubert Piano Trios

L'Archibudelli

Anner Bylsma

Vera Beths

Jos van Immerseel

 

 

 

 

 

 

Schubert, Franz (1797-1828)

String Trio in B flat major D 581

 

1 Allegro

2 Adagio

3 Menuetto

4 Finale

Schubert, Franz (1797-1828)

String Trio in B flat major D 898

 

 

 

1 Allegro

2 Adagio

3 Menuetto

4 Finale

In this scenario you can use the artist tag to list individual performers.

A "universal" solution

The title of a composition is often a simple descriptive one e.g. it is a string quartet and as the composer wrote more than one it has a number e.g. String quartet no. 1
If you use this description as the album title you get all symphonies, all string quartets, etc. grouped in the interface. Maybe you like the idea  but if you have to choose between eight  string quartet no. 1’s without any additional information you probably change your mind.

 

Album

String quartet no.1

String quartet no.1

String quartet no.1

 

I prefix all compositions with the name of the composer.

Album

Beethoven - String quartet no.1

Brahms - String quartet no.1

Schumann - String quartet no.1


Now I have them grouped by composer in the album view of the media player and I can use the artist tag for the performer.
This in general translates nicely to a portable too.


Artist

Album Title

Melos Quartet

 

 

 

Schumann: String quartet no.1

Allegro

Adagio

Menuetto

Finale

Artist

Album Title

Alban Berg Quartet

 

 

 

Brahms: String quartet no.1

Allegro

Adagio

Menuetto

Finale

Multiple performances

You might have some overlap in your collection e.g. Beethoven's violin sonata no.1 performed by Gidon Kremer/Martha Argerich and by Vladimir Ashkenazy/Itzhak Perlman.

 

If your media player thinks tracks belong to the same album if both Album Title and Album Artist are the same you might get something like this:

 

Album

Beethoven - Violin sonata no.1

Beethoven - Violin sonata no.1

 

and if you expand this to tracks you might end up with:


Album

Song

Beethoven - Violin sonata no.1

1 Allegro

Beethoven - Violin sonata no.1

1 Allegro

Beethoven - Violin sonata no.1

2 Adagio

Beethoven - Violin sonata no.1

2 Adagio

Beethoven - Violin sonata no.1

3 Menuetto

Beethoven - Violin sonata no.1

3 Menuetto

Beethoven - Violin sonata no.1

4 Finale

Beethoven - Violin sonata no.1

4 Finale

 

You get all the first movements, then the second movements, etc.

Adding the name of the composers and the performers to the composition makes your albums media player proof but the title might become too long to be fully displayed in the interface.

 

Album

Beethoven - Violin Sonata No. 9 in A major (Kreutzer Sonata) - Kremer/Argerich

Beethoven - Violin Sonata No. 9 in A major (Kreutzer Sonata) - Perlman/Ashkenazy

 

This I call a universal solution because by making the name of the Album unique it will work on almost any device even those that use Album Title only to define an album.

The downside is the title becomes very long. Often too long to be readable in the interface.

I don't endorse this practice but I do think it is a work-around often needed because most media players are built with pop music in mind.

Multiple values

Often you have various combinations of performers like:

Gideon Kremer
Gideon Kremer/ Martha Argerich
Gideon Kremer/ Olaf Mustone
Harnoncourt / Gideon Kremer

Martha Argerich
Martha Argerich / Harnoncourt / Gideon Kremer

etc.

This makes it hard to find all the works performed by e.g. Kremer in a sorted list.

 

Some media players support multiple values.
You enter the names separated by a semicolon.
Examples of multiple values in WMP and JRiver.

 

An alternative is simply not to bother.

If your media player has a good search function, typing e.g. "Kremer" will simply yield all the tracks he is involved in.

Sorting

In classical music the movements are often labelled using numbers.

You can do without as long as the media player sorts by track number.

But some simply sorts alphabetically by title, so it is a good practice to use numbers.

 

A common practice is using roman numbers.
As long as you remain below VIII, they sort well alphabetically.

 

I

II

III

IV

IX

V

VI

VII

VIII

 

Using 'normal' numbers might also give problems if the sorting is done alphabetically.

 

1
10
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9

 

Some media players support "smart" sorting.

They sort the numbers in the right order although the content of the tag is character.

If not, the only thing you can do is to prefix a zero.

Software

Tagging classical music is a lot of work.
Sometimes you can save yourself a lot of typing by using scripts.
Advanced taggers like MP3Tag or JRiver allow you to use formulas for bulk editing.

Multiline editing is a time saving option too.

An example of tagging classical using JRiver can be found here.

Epilogue

Most of the text above I wrote in 2008/2009.
Today a lot of media players support the composer tag.
Even the one on my Android smart phone does.

 

Media players supporting a Composition tag are rare.

This is one of the very few I know.

How to tag?

Try to identify your needs.

There is no perfect solution.
If you use a player like JRiver you can make all kind of custom tags and tailor the views to your needs.
If you sync to a portable you have to take into account its capabilities too.

If you use various media players, keep portability of tags in mind.

Search

You might go for an elaborate tagging schema but if you have a media player with a good search function it is often more important that the information is in some searchable tag then in a specific tag.
If you browse a list it is very inconvenient to have both “Gidon Kremer” and “Kremer, Gidon” in the list.
If you do a search on "Kremer" you will find both anyway.
Over time I became a bit less fixated about my tagging schemes.

If the search finds it, who cares?

References

Taming iTunes for Classical Music - Stan Brown

The Zen of Classical Music Tagging (Part1) - MusiCHI

The Zen of Classical Music Tagging (Part2) - MusiCHI