God saves classical music (again)

God saves classical music (again)


norman lebrecht

January 25, 2016

A truly shocking stat on this week’s Nielsen Soundscan classical charts. The Monks of Norcia on Decca sold more than 5,000 copies in the US last week. No classical release has done so well in months.

Almost equally shocking: the next-best ‘classical’ seller is … Downton Abbey, with just under 500 sales.

After that, Yo Yo Ma with … 200.

Five places down is the Vienna New Year’s Day concert. Fewer than 90 copies sold in the second week of release.

Why bother?



  • Brian Hughes says:

    If you own one New Year’s release, don’t you basically have them all. I have Kleiber’s and surely need no other.

    • Petros LInardos says:

      Kleiber himself had recommended a Clemens Krauss recording to Muti. Worth checking the Krauss compilations of Preiser Records or Opus Kura.

  • Alvaro says:

    I do not know the economics of it all but wouldn’t be surprised to see that the NYE Vienna concert is simply a huge way to internalize as revenues monies that were received by the organization using its non profit status. Under that scenario, Sony could care less if it sells 0 copies of the , the production is profitable from the onset.

    Who in their right mind would want to keep on buying the same music, from the same orchestra, year on year, with the only thing mildly changing are the conductors?

    • Herbert Pauls says:

      About 315 different works have been performed on VPO New Year’s concert throughout its history. More than one might expect…

  • Peter says:

    Nielsen does not list all sales. Only specialty stores. Not online physical sales. Not large outlets. A journalist should know that.

    • Robert says:

      Their site says they collect sales data from “… physical and digital titles from venues, mass merchants, retail chains, independent record stores and digital download providers…”

      That seems to extend quite a bit beyond “only specialty stores” and by definition “mass merchant” includes e-tailers like Amazon.

      • Peter says:

        It has to be subscribed twice, once for taking part in the tracking, and for each CD, album etc. again.

        It had its time in the 90s when it was used widely and even though never giving the real picture, one could get a rough idea how the market worked.

        Today it’s very far from the real sales quantities, its basically irrelevant, unless strictly referenced against the published subscriptions of the service. But that’s not published AFAIK.

    • Steve says:

      Sales get reported to Soundscan if the retailer is a “Soundscan Account” – which, the majority of music sellers are. Amazon, which is the largest online seller of physical product is absolutely a Soundscan reporter.


  • Greg from SF says:

    Since Karajan, the only conductors of the Vienna Phil NY Concert who actually made the orchestra WORK – and I’ve seen them all – were Kleiber and Harnoncourt. The CDs of their concerts are excellent. And Petros, I agree with you – Krauss is excellent as well.
    (I must say, though, I did enjoy Maazel’s various shticks with the percussion instruments, and the fact that he sometimes led with the violin.)
    As to sales of VPNYC CDs in the US, why is it a surprise that they don’t sell? Everything’s on video now, either physical discs or streaming, and often the streaming is free. I bet they’re not selling that well outside the US either.

    • George King says:

      Haven’t heard the Krauss but would go along with Kleiber and Harnoncourt, definitely.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      Great conductors appart, maybe that popular Viennese repertoire was never so entertaining as in the years the orchestra’s first violinist, Willi Boskovsky, conducted.

  • erich says:

    The whole thing has just become an increasingly undignified annual fleecing ritual for wealthy Asian tourists. .One must just hope that the one-dimensional conductors like Muti, Barenboim or Mehta are not asked to return and that the Vienna Phil show a little more fantasy in choosing the conductors. Dudamel is risky, but I could imagine that Pappano and Thielemann (as long as it doesn’t develop into a quasi ‘Reichsparteitag’ event) might revive the spirit of music-making in the mould of past masters of the art.

    • Peter says:

      What in the real world makes you believe, Thieleman, no doubt a decent conductor with affinity to the late romantic Teutonic repertoire (his Beethoven doesn’t do it for me at all), is less one dimensional than Muti or Barenboim?

      Both have quite versatile qualities as well. Problem with all of them is they don’t like to rehearse too much, but who actually does like to rehearse these days?

      It’s an agent’s world, and they get paid by the gig, not by rehearsal time, enough said.

    • Holly Golightly says:

      I find your comments about Thielemann offensive. He’s a fine conductor and I’ve seen him many times at the Musikverein. And it just so happens his views on immigration were and are very prescient. Europe is in a shocking situation. If only they’d listened to Thielemann and his Dresden demographic.

      Apart from that, the Neujahrskonzert am Musikverein is a tourism promotion – that’s it’s main objective these days.

    • Holly Golightly says:

      I was directing my comments about Thielemann to you and not Peter. I see that it could be interpreted that way.

      Political correctness is simply bullying and name-calling to shut people up when you really want them to agree with you!!

  • Michael says:

    How can you dispute that sales in Classical music have been slowing down for years? You can nit pick here and there for a few more sales that didn’t make it to the Nielsen Soundscan chart , but don’t bury your head in the sand. Lament the fact, but admit that the Classical recording industry is struggling. Having been in music retail for over 25 years, I have seen the demise first hand. The classical core of Beethoven, Mozart and Handel recordings is simply of very little interest to the majority of Classical record buyers, who already own a dozen recordings of the pieces or more. So, yes, how many New Year’s in Vienna recordings does one need? How many Beethoven Symphonies?
    People want Milos, Bocelli, Rieu, and they are keeping the labels afloat. Blasphemy! Rubbish! you say, and maybe so, but they allow the labels to continue to record the core repertoire and keep the music alive.
    Long live crossover! and I will prepare to be vilified.

  • matteo says:

    I’m very pleased to hear this about the Monks of Norcia.
    In 2000 a small group of American Benedictine monks decided to re-found the monastery founded in the Italian village of Norcia, St. Benedict’s birthplace, in the 10th century and suppressed by Napoleon in 1810. These monks, with no money but with huge faith and devotion in Our Lord restored the monastery and re-settled his community, discovering and applying the motto of St. Benedict: “ora et labora”. The Monks of Norcia live the Catholic faith and spirituality applying the original and very hard Benedictine rule, singing the ancient Liturgy of Hours in Latin and celebrating the Old Latin Mass. They also work very hard and produce by themselves the “Birra Nursia”, their artisanal beer, which they export all over the world. By selling their beer and their Gregorian chant recordings they’re financially independent. Moreover, because of their spirituality based on Tradition and genuine Catholic faith, they’ve lots of vocations.
    So, it’s true that God saves classical music, but, as we pray, “Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis”: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will”. Of course we need God, but we also need people of good will and good ideas who love tradition.

    • Peter says:

      All right, but in the end we then need people who actually ACT on their will and beliefs. We have no shortage of good will and good ideas. We have a dramatic shortage of people who are willing to leave their convenient comfort zones and fight and do the deed.