Manage classical music on iTunes? Apple thinks you can…

Manage classical music on iTunes? Apple thinks you can…


norman lebrecht

August 10, 2015

Most of us know that downloading classical works from iTunes is a hopeless pursuit. The system breaks everything into ‘tracks’, making it impossible to hear a symphony undisturbed and in the intended movement order.

Macworld has just published a few tips on making classics more accessible on iTunes. You may find it helpful.

Click here.

exam student headphones


  • Peter says:

    Your first paragraph is completely wrong. iTunes is perfectly capable of playing symphonies without interruption, be they acquired from ripping CDs or purchased from iTune store, and in the right order. It copes perfectly with symphonies, operas and other works which may be broken into tracks but are in fact continuous. Aside from the display changing, there is no interruption to the playback at all. True, this was an issue some considerable number of years ago, but has been ‘fixed’ for a long while now.

  • Jonathan M. Dunsby says:

    ==downloading classical works from iTunes is a hopeless pursuit.

    Yes – it was in the early days, but there are ways around the problems now

  • La Donna del Largo says:

    “Ten years ago, when I wrote an article about ripping classical CDs, iTunes didn’t yet play music without gaps between tracks. . . . At the time, I recommended ripping entire CDs in single files, but there’s little reason to do that now.”

    Do you even read the articles you link to?

  • Kirk McElhearn says:


    Thanks for linking to my article. I wish you had read it; as a commenter above points out, iTunes has played gapless for a long time.

    I have a feeling you don’t understand much about how iTunes works. I’m sorry to hear that. While it’s not perfect for classical music – and my Macworld article that you link to points out the shortcomings – it’s not because of the music itself, but rather the tags, or metadata, which isn’t as practical for classical music.

    But it is not hopeless. Far from it. It just requires some adaptation.

  • Jon says:

    Indeed, what is hopeless is to continue monitoring how many classical music CDs have been sold each month, when many listeners use streaming services to consume dozens of “albums” every day.

  • Jerry says:

    If this link hasn’t already been posted:!/story/can-apple-music-find-harmony-classical-music-fans/
    a lively audio discussion on the new media from the classical perspective.

    I have no way to check whether iTunes have improved their metadata categories
    to an acceptable level, but if there is only one ARTIST field available, how does
    one code something like the Verdi Requiem with ARTIST=

    Vienna State Opera Chorus
    Vienna Philharmonic

  • Jon says:

    Labeling and tagging is always a challenge! But not only for classical music, for any type of information.

    Services like iTunes and Spotify have been designed for the mainstream music consumer for whom a single string is enough to tag the artist in a track.

    For advanced consumers (such as the classical music consumer that reads slippedisc, but also specialized pop, rock, jazz… music consumers) a single string wouldn’t be enough and more advanced tools need to be made available.

    For example, I would like to have several fields to tag the artists in a recording, so that I can find other recordings that include one of those artists. Something that would be more difficult with a single string.

    Then I would also like to tag the track based on the year of composition, genre, period, instrumentation, tonality (if applicable)… you call it.

    Imagine the power of a music library where thousands of recordings are tagged in detail and you can easily create a playlist of XIX century songs, based on texts of Goethe and sung by DFD.

    A properly tagged music library has a great potential!

  • Alvaro Mendizabal says:

    So far so awesome. Its a much better replacement for anything in existence so far. We have the greatest depository of master recordings probably in the history of humanity. Its all there, all the symphonies, all the conductors, all the soloists. Your job is done. The greatest masterworks have at least 20 larger than live versions.

    There’s no cultural of economic rationale to continue to regurgitate recordings by the pound. The CD age is over. Give me Apple music any day of the week.

    • PDQ.BACH says:

      For your iPod, check.
      For your iPhone with standard CrappyPods™, check.
      For your hi-fi, if Apple Music suffices, better check your ears.

      As to the job being “done”: there is such a thing as interpretation, wouldn’t you agree? Bound to change over time?
      And there’s also the small matter of progress in musicology.

      Euterpe and Erato, help us! Imagine, if Karajan had lived a little longer, and Sony rather than Apple hand launched something like iTunes a decade earlier: we’d be stuck with a surfeit of Herbert von Berliner on everything from the Brandenburgs to Richard Strauss; Anne-Sophie Mutter as the gold standard for the violin Partitas; and Lang Lang laying down the law on Scarlatti and Forqueray, polishing his own LL-branded Steinway concert grand.

      No, sir, what you propose is a gilt-edged version of musical 1984.

      • Alvaro Mendizabal says:

        I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this reply, albeit by such a mystical figure as P.D.Q. Bach.

        If interpretation evolves, better hear it live right – as it is evolving.

        Agreed that for HI-FI the standards are very much lacking. However – if Hi-Fi adds to the value proposition for musical products and services, why not charge a premium for it. Its like saying:

        For many, a FORD car will get the job done (it will transport you from place to place), but for those that love HP on the hundreds, leather seatings and the logo of Ferrari, it wont suffice.

        Well, if you like Ferrari over Ford…PAY FERRARI. Why force a mega company to raise standards and keep it at the same price.

        Its the same thing as playing music in clubs or other ‘outreach’ places. If people see the value, they will 1) pay a lot of money for each ticket – even absurd quantities, and 2) shut up completely, and I mean COMPLETELY when commanded to.

        Dont believe me? Try to go to the finals of Wimbledon, and let me know 1) how much you paid for a ticket and 2) if you were able to yell like in a soccer stadium.

        The whole music industry is RETARDED in selling its most valued product.

  • Jiracek von Arnim says:

    I agree on iTunes being able to play gapless for a long time. That’s wonderful.

    However, iTunes (not just tagging) has become a bag of hurt – and looking at the team in charge of Apple Music, I doubt Classical music will be given much attention at all, it is mainstream and Beats all the way. That from a company at the famous “Intersection of Technology and Liberal Arts” (by the way, did you know that Steve Jobs once bought a Bösendorfer Grand Piano?)…

    By the way, look at how they tag Beethoven on Brendel’s recording of the Diabelli:
    Supposedly, it is “Rock” instead of Classical (and that is debatable, even with Brendel at the piano…).

  • Alasdair Munro says:

    My experience is mostly ok, but Elgar’s The Apostles Halle recording is stored as multiple items on my account. I tried deleting and re-ripping but the result was the same. One or two others have similar or related problems, including Japanese text,and album artwork is very hit or miss. I can live with it.

  • Tom Varley says:

    As noted by other commentators, iTunes can play works without gaps between the tracks. Not so when I’m playing music using Amazon Music Library, formerly Amazon Cloud Player. The Amazon uploading app also has a problem with French, particularly accents and other markings and declines to uploads tracks unless they’ve been renamed to remove the unexpected markings.

    I’ve also had the experience when ripping CDs of iTunes treating it as a Japanese disc, when I don’t think it’s ever been closer than the parking lot of a local Hibachi restaurant. I’ve also had the interesting experience of ripping several CDs that came from the same set and the meta data seems to treat them as being totally unconnected. I would ascribe this to quirks of the coding on the CDs themselves, which are just being dutifully read by iTunes.

    Where I do have a quibble is that the most recent version of iTunes ( resists having the user rename playlists and usually defaults to having the playlist begin with the name of the performer, not the composer. It generally takes multiple attempts to rename the playlist into a convention I find useful – Composer – Work – Performer.

    • William Safford says:

      No. There is an online database of metadata for CDs. This database is referenced when you import a commercial CD.

      When you see Japanese metadata, it’s because someone uploaded the metadata in Japanese.

      Sometimes when you import a CD, you’ll be given a choice of sets of metadata from which to choose.

      If you import a CD without an active wifi connection on your computer, you’ll be alerted to the absence of the online metadata. If you proceed, the tracks for the imported CD will be listed as “Track 1,” “Track 2,” etc.

      From time to time, if there is no metadata for the CD in the online database, you may be asked to input the metadata manually.

      (All of this is based on my current and past versions of iTunes. It is possible that some of this has changed in more recent releases. I stopped updating iTunes a while back. I have found that I dislike each update more and more, for it makes my CD importing and database experience worse and worse. And I do not buy music from iTunes. I do not like lossy sound files. I rip my CDs lossless. I can hear the difference.)

  • Marg says:

    Probably Norman has never looked at iTunes or used it. But as someone above said, there are scads of people downloading classical music every day. I often come home from a performance and go straight to iTunes and download a CD or certain tracks that I want if its something not in my own library. I think too that reporting on CDs sold per month is old school – you have to factor in downloads to get a true picture of how much classical music is or is not being purchased.

  • Tom Hartley says:

    The real problem with iTunes (the download site, not the software) is that it only sells mp3s and mp3s suck.

    • PDQ.BACH says:

      Well, technically, that’s incorrect.
      Apple’s AAC, the MP4-based standard audio format on iTunes, uses a later, better-performing codec than MP3.
      The main difference being better resolution at equivalent bitrates. The difference is no huge, but you can hear it with good material.
      John Atkinson of Stereophileexplained it in detail here.

      But I agree with you on the general assessment: lossy compression audio formats yield unsatisfactory results, except on entry-level portable devices. In this age of high bandwidth and large-capacity storage, there is no longer any justification to buy lossy formats for listening on decent devices, let alone stationary hi-fi. And there is certainly no excuse for selling cut-rate formats at full-rate prices, like Apple does. Not with Qobuz and similar services offering lossless CD-quality or Hi-Res downloads in a similar price range.

  • Karina says:

    I love to listen music while I running each morning, but the problem that I have is.. a CORD of earphones, sometimes is just slaps my face while jogging..thought to buy some wireless earbuds, but in doubt which are better , some cost $30, some $150. Dont want to buy something cheap, but also dont want to waste money on something uncomfortable. I found reviews of top Bluetooth earbuds here

    • Jon says:

      Karina, all your trouble with the earphones would go away if you were listening to CDs instead of iTunes.

    • Fionn Fionnmhachain says:

      Have you tried wearing your earbuds with the ‘Y’ junction where the two cables meet at the back of your neck instead of under your chin? I do this when I’m gardening to stop myself from snagging the cable with my tools—I imagine it’d also work when running.



  • Fionn Fionnmhachain says:

    Hello folks,

    I’m new to trying to rip CDs to iTunes, which I’m trying to do for my Dad. I ripped two operas and two albums of 15th century polyphony whilst watching a film with him this afternoon, then when I got home I expected—naively, it seems!—that when iTunes was able to connect to the internet, it would recognise them. It recognises nothing: not the artist (even I’ve heard of flipping Placido Domingo!), not the opera, not the album. I’ve just got a lot of Track 1s, Track 2s, Track 3s, etc. I don’t know this music at all, so I’d never be able to work out which track belongs to which opera/album/artist by listening to the music.

    My Dad isn’t one of those really keen music fans who have several recordings of operas, so the difficulty with tagging composers, soloists, etc. wouldn’t really be an issue for him. He just wants to be able to click, for instance, ‘Aida’ on his iPhone and have the album play whilst he’s travelling to work. I don’t mind pulling the tracks into playlists manually to enable him to do this, but I would need some little clue as to which track is which! Does everyone have this problem, or is it just something I’ve come up against? I’m running the latest versions of Yosemite and iTunes, by the way—the first thing I did was to check.

    Be so grateful for any help anyone could offer.


  • Ian says:

    I’m not sure if I’m asking this question in the right place, but since it refers to itunes… Does anyone else have a problem ripping Erato CDs to itunes? I’ve spent weeks ripping my collection of cds, but seem to consistently find some (though not all) Erato discs fail to rip (and strangely, with one exception, it’s Handel that fails). Anybody any ideas?