Brilliant Box Sets and Other Classics

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to explore and enjoy The Complete Liszt Piano Music box set.  After a solid week of digesting the collection I found myself hungry for more classical listening material.

The Complete Liszt Piano Music

For a first-time listener the scope of classical music is daunting.  In which century should I begin?  Other than my Baroque 100-disc set (which is overwhelming both in content and in volume) I had little experience with Early Music, Romantic, and other pre-recording-industry-era musics.

I quickly scanned the classical subreddit, read the sidebar, and perused Rateyourmusic’s classical pages.  It didn’t take long to arrive at a decision – Deutsche Grammophon offers an expansive library of  well-recorded, expertly-pressed, and reasonably-priced compositions from a variety of respected conductors and performers.

As I was not nearly equipped to make individual purchasing selections from their catalog, I opted for the archival collection.  111 Years of Deutsche Grammophon is a two-volume collection of the finest albums in their library.  Each disc is housed in a sleeve featuring the release’s original artwork.

111 Years of Deutsche Grammophon Vol 1

111 Years of Deutsche Grammophon Vol 1

111 Years of Deutsche Grammophon Vol 2
111 Years of Deutsche Grammophon Vol 2
I am currently on my 8th day of listening, taking in 8 hours of content each day.  My favorite highlight thus far is Claudio Monteverdi’s Magnificat.

And by sheer coincidence, a fellow audiophile visited from out of town this weekend and provided me with another hauntingly beautiful choral recording.  Ondine Records released a Super Audio CD of The Latvian Radio Choir performing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s  Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

Latvian Radio Choir - The Liturgy

Latvian Radio Choir - The Liturgy SACD

And the great music just kept on coming.  Friday evening, after a month of waiting my copy of the new Miles at the Fillmore, Bootleg Series Vol 3 finally arrived at my local record shop from the Netherlands.

Miles at the Fillmore Bootleg Series Vol 3 Box Set

I had previously purchased the Japan-only issued Black Beauty album – a much abbreviated version of one of Davis’ four Fillmore concerts.  At the time it was the closest I could get to an official vinyl release capturing Mile’s live sound from that era.

When this set was announced, featuring all four performances complete and uncut, and mastered and pressed by Music On Vinyl, I didn’t hesitate for a moment.  This release is the PERFECT gift for the Miles Davis fan who has everything.

Before walking out of the shop, I heard that a stack of used jazz had also come in, and I snatched up a $10 early pressing of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme in superb condition.

John Coltrane - A Love Supreme 08-15-14 sm

And to finish off the week in style, I gave myself a challenge.  I decided to teach myself data visualization.  A friend recommended Gephi as a free visualization tool and I got to work building and importing a .CSV.

I chose to visually map my library’s top 550 artists by genre as a preliminary exercise in data visualization.  The result isn’t fantastic, (there is far too much information to represent in this method), but it was fun learning how to make it work.

Click to enlarge.

Innerspace Map of Our Top 550 Artists & Composers of 2014


Franz Liszt Fantasizing at the Piano  Painting by Josef Danhauser

Franz Liszt Fantasizing at the Piano
Painting by Josef Danhauser

Today’s featured box set is from 19th-century Hungarian composer and rock star, Franz Liszt. In line with my affinity for ze Germans, Liszt was one of the most prominent representatives of the “Neudeutsche Schule” (“New German School”). Liszt invented the symphonic poem, work closely with Wagner, popularized a wide array of music by transcribing it for piano, and was perhaps the biggest rock star of his era. (I’m not even kidding; the man had an illness named after him which swept through Europe – “Lisztomania.

At his performances, fans would swarm around him, clamoring for trophies ranging from his gloves to broken piano strings. In one account from Franz Liszt: The Virtuoso Years by Alan Walker:

Liszt once threw away an old cigar stump in the street under the watchful eyes of an infatuated lady-in-waiting, who reverently picked the offensive weed out of the gutter, had it encased in a locket and surrounded with the monogram “F.L.” in diamonds, and went about her courtly duties unaware of the sickly odour it gave forth.

Liszt was the Michael Jackson of his day.

Except… without the children.

Or… the monkey.

Oh wait… there was a monkey.

The northwest Colombian cotton-top tamarin is readily identified by a long white sagittal crest extending from its forehead to its shoulders. In German-speaking areas, the cotton-top tamarin is commonly known as “Lisztaffe” (literally “Liszt monkey”) as the monkey’s crest is clearly-inspired by the great composer and is likely an expression of the primate’s fandom.

But oh yes… back to Liszt.

The Complete Liszt Piano Music 2

Hailed as a musical triumph; the greatest collection of the complete works of Franz Liszt is an impressive 99-disc box set containing the finest performances of Liszt’s music for solo piano, brilliantly performed by Leslie Howard between 1985 and 2009. All 99 discs were released as a handsome box set with accompanying book in 2010 by the Hyperion label. It took Howard 24 years to complete the monumental task, including every one of his compositions, tone poems and transcriptions as well as newly-discovered manuscripts to create one ultimate and unparalleled collection. Clocking in at 7,256 minutes (almost 121 hours) – this is every note that Ferenc (Franz) Liszt wrote and interpreted for the piano.

I didn’t waste a moment once I had the set, and spent the first day ripping the disc images to FLAC. After an evening of experimentation I arrived at the appropriate template –

[‘(‘disc %discnumberandname%’)’]
\%artist% – %album%.cue”

This properly segmented the disc images and volumes into a nested series of subfolders to maintain the set’s original order. (Archival standards MUST be maintained at all times!)

Unfortunately, particularly with classical series, there was no uniformity to the tags for these discs, which were originally issued independently of one another. I tried retrieving data from both MusicBrainz and from FreeDB, but some discs credited the artist as “Leslie Howard (piano)” others as “Liszt Vol.XX” and others simply as “Franz Liszt.” The album titles were no better – some citing the volume number in the series, others only the disc number, and still others the title of the volume only.

And so 7 hours Friday evening were dedicated to manually configuring the tags to have a uniform structure as one commercial release. (If Howard can spend 24 YEARS performing these pieces, then 7 hours is a small price to pay to enjoy it.) Thankfully MP3tag and MediaMonkey both offer batch-tagging commands which facilitated the project, but I’m beginning to understand and appreciate the challenge that is tagging and storing classical recordings!

Franz Liszt, oil on canvas by Henri Lehmann, 1840

Franz Liszt, oil on canvas by Henri Lehmann, 1840

Other than the Top 100 Baroque LPs collage I picked up earlier in the year, and excepting a few Debussy LPs (namely Isao Tomita’s Snowflakes are Dancing and La Mer), I have never ventured far beyond the shores of classical music. My girlfriend swears by Liszt, proclaiming him the most influential composer of the 19th century, so it seemed an appropriate place to start.

With the ripping task complete, I’ve added the box set to the library on my server and will be enjoying them each day at work in the order they are presented in the collection.  By my calculations, this will take precisely 3 weeks to complete. I’m looking forward to it!

A brief summary of the collection:

Discs 1-6: Etudes and early works
Discs 7-19: Major original compositions
Discs 20-29: Dances, marches, & transcriptions of Liszt’s own works
Discs 30-36: Pieces on national themes
Discs 37-49: Operatic fantasies, transcriptions, and paraphrases
Discs 50-61: Concert transcriptions
Discs 62-69: The Beethoven transcriptions
Discs 70-79: The Schubert transcriptions
Discs 80-94: Rare works and new discoveries
Discs 95-99: Music for piano and orchestra

I do so love a proper archive.


Celebrating our 100th Post – Silence and Empty Words

Pencils ready!

Dear readers,

This is officially the 100th entry at The Innerspace Connection.  I have wonderful things planned for the coming month, featuring more great music and original content.  Innerspace has grown significantly in its readership in the last few years, and now I’m looking to you to find out what content you’d like to see in the next 100 posts.

I’m reaching out every active reader and passive lurker who follows this blog to answer this quick-and-easy 9-question survey.  Your responses will help me deliver the content you’re looking for in the future.   Thank you!

Click here and take the survey now!

It was a wonderful weekend.  My girlfriend spend it spinning Franz Liszt LPs,  and I picked up the next installment of John Cage’s lectures and writings for my library.

I queued up one of my new genre autoplaylists of modern-classical piano works while I read.  The list consisted of composers like Zazie Von Einem Anderen Stern, Ólafur Arnalds, Dustin O’Halloran (who you likely know from his collaboration with Adam Wiltzie performing as A Winged Victory for the Sullen), and selections from Reinbert De Leeuv performing the early piano works of Erik Satie.

This put me in a nostalgic Windham Hill mood, so I also threw in George Winston’s simple but enjoyable piano solos into the mix.  I finished off the set with the Interludes LP from Mannheim Steamroller which excerpts all the interludes from the Fresh Aire series of albums.  All in all excellent “thinking music” for a summer afternoon exploring the compositional processes of John Cage.

Mannheim Steamroller - Fresh Aire Interludes

I’m still working my way through SILENCE: Lectures and Writings [50th Anniversary Edition] from last year’s Christmas wish-list.  My girlfriend and I stopped into our local used bookshop and I was delighted to come upon Cage’s Empty Words: Writings ’73-’78 which picks up right where SILENCE left off.

John Cage - Silence and Empty Words

Empty Words is hardly casual bathroom reading, as you can see from the random page selection below.  But in the full context of Cage’s writings it begins to make (some sort of) sense.

John Cage - Empty Words (excerpt)

I’ve just ordered another reference text – Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music by Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner.  I came upon the title quite by chance while researching texts on minimalism, and upon reading a particular review of the book I instantly ordered a copy.  Here is the review – from CMJ New Music Monthly.

“[Audio Culture] is an indispensable primer full of the theories behind noise, Free-jazz, minimalism, 20th century composition, ambient, avant-garde and all the other crazy shit your square-ass friends can’t believe you actually like. With writing and interviews from all the players in question (quoting Stockhausen is five points in hipster bingo), this book deconstructs all the essential ideas: Cage’s themes, Eno’s strategies, Zorn’s games and Merzbow’s undying love of porno.” –CMJ New Music Monthly, 7/04

The humor and wit of the review sold me 100% before I’d even read the item summary on Amazon.  This is particularly noteworthy as I rarely read texts written after the late 1970s.  (I have an affinity for Golden Age science fiction and classics of music non-fiction.)

I’ll be certain to post a review of the title, along with a second modern publication which I’ll keep under my hat for the moment.

That’s it for now.  Stay tuned for more, and if you haven’t already –  Click here and take the survey now!

Happy 100!