Download 400,000 Free Classical Musical Scores & 46,000 Free Classical Recordings from the International Music Score Library Project

The pleasure of listening to classical music, as every classical music aficionado knows, goes well beyond listening to one's favorite piece. You can't have a favorite piece without having a favorite performance of that piece, played by certain musicians, presided over by a certain conductor, and recorded in a certain hall. And even so, many other recordings of that piece may well exist that you haven't heard yet, one of which could one day usurp your personal top spot. About many compositions there also exists a near-infinite amount to learn and understand, especially for those of us with musical training or score-reading ability.

This aesthetically and intellectually rewarding process of seeking out and comparing — and indeed, the enterprise of classical music-listening itself — has become much easier with the advent of resources like the International Music Score Library Project. Founded in 2006, it has by this point expanded to contain "123,134 works, 404,963 scores, 46,610 recordings, 15,404 composers, and 445 performers," all online and many free for the downloading. Just search for the name of a piece or composer with the window on the upper right — Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, for instance — and the IMSP will show you all the related items it currently has.

Mozart's well-known and widely heard 1787 composition Eine kleine Nachtmusik (known numerically as K.525) has its own page in the IMSP's database, where you'll find not just 29 scores and parts and 28 arrangements and transcriptions in the sheet music section but two complete performances in the recording section: one by the Boston chamber orchestra A Far Cry and one by the Netherlands' Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. You can listen to them right on the site, or download them by first clicking on the down arrow (↓) next to the words "complete performance," then on the down arrow (↓) that appears to the right of the volume controller when the file starts playing.

Or if you're not in the mood for a little night music, perhaps the IMSP can interest you in Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 or Johann Sebastian Bach's Goldberg Variations. But then, as the San Francisco Symphony's Michael Tilson Thomas once said, "You can't have Bach, Mozart and Beethoven as your favorite composers. They simply define what music is!" So if you'd prefer to go beyond the definition and hear more of the variations classical music has to offer — variations being one of the prime sources of its aforementioned pleasure — the IMSP's vast archive has plenty of recordings to satisfy that desire as well, with more added all the time.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Stream 35 Hours of Classic Blues, Folk, & Bluegrass Recordings from Smithsonian Folkways: 837 Tracks Featuring Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie & More

Image of Woody Guthrie by Al Aumuller, via Wikimedia Commons

Marshall McLuhan’s chestnut “the medium is the message” contains some of the most important theory about mass media to have emerged in the past century. In its honor, we might propose another slogan—less conceptually tidy and alliterative—that brings to mind the arguments of critical theorists like Theodor Adorno: “the economy is the culture”—the economic mechanisms that govern the “culture industry,” as Adorno would say, determine the kinds of productions that saturate our shared environment. In a purely corporate capitalist model, we consume culture—that which is marketed most aggressively and distributed most plentifully—and often discard it just as quickly. In an economy that doesn’t make profit the fulcrum of its every move, things go otherwise. The lines between consumers, creators, and communities become blurred in weird and wonderful ways.

This can happen in decentralized environments like the wilds of the early internet. And it can happen in institutions that code it into their design. The Smithsonian is one of those institutions. The public collections in its vast network of museums has remained, outside of special exhibits and films, free and “open access” for everyone. And one of their key cultural contributions, the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, has devoted itself since its founding in the late sixties to “culture of, by, and for the people.”

Even if you’ve never taken the time to delve into their curatorial efforts (and you should), you’ll know their work through Folkways Recordings, the record label created in  by Moses Asch—founder of Folkways Records in 1949. After he passed away in 1986, Asch's family donated over 2,000 records, his entire discography, to the Smithsonian, with the proviso that they always remain in print, whether or not they made a buck.

This has meant that scholars and fans of folk from all over the world have always been able to find the work of Pete Seeger, The Carter Family, Woody Guthrie, and Lead Belly, to name but a few of the label’s “stars.” There are many more: Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, Elizabeth Cotten, Reverend Gary Davis…. So many names in the pantheon of folk giants Robert Crumb immortalized in his colorful, and unusually tasteful, Heroes of Blues, Jazz, and Country. But Folkways has preserved much more besides. Kentucky’s Old Regular Baptist Church’s a capella hymns, Kilby Snow’s autoharp, Snooks English’s New Orleans street singing, Alice Gerrard and Hazel Dickens’ 60s interpretations of traditional bluegrass…. Music that appealed to small but culturally rich communities in its day, and that may have disappeared along with those communities in the scrum of cultural history, dominated as it is by mass entertainments.

The small, regional creations, some teetering on genius, some haunting in their artlessness, are critical documents of old America, the hollers, deserts, streets, swamps, low country, back country, mountains, valleys….  Hear it all in the Spotify playlist above (or access it here), 837 tracks of Folkways recordings. Smithsonian Folkways is perhaps best known for its North American artists, but it has released recordings from all over the world. Rather than creating commodities, the institution functions as a repository of global cultural memory, collecting and preserving “people’s music.” Since Asch’s endowment, Folkways has created an additional six labels under its umbrella and released over 300 new recordings. In 2003, they partnered with the American Folklife Center for the “Save Our Sounds” project, which aims to preserve recordings like those made by Thomas Edison on wax cylinders. Folkways opens a window on an alternate world where cultural production is not a perpetual struggle for ratings, reviews, and sales dominance.

It’s not entirely a utopian vision. There is the danger of a paternalizing approach. Curators like Asch, Harry Smith, John and Alan Lomax, and hundreds more serious enthusiasts and ethnographers have their own agendas, interests, biases, and blind spots. What we understand now as traditional Delta blues, for example, is a product of selection bias—it excludes many artists and varieties that didn’t catch on with collectors. Still Folkways remedies much of this shortcoming by including work from a broad spectrum of unknown composers, interpreters, and performers. There may be no form of modern folk music today that hasn’t been crafted and molded by the music industry, which might mean, by definition, that there is no modern folk music. For such a thing to exist—the “people’s music”—perhaps more democratic economies and institutions must prevail.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Adam Savage Takes Us Inside Jack White’s Third Man Records, the First New Record-Pressing Plant in the US in 30 Years

Jack White, best known as the frontman of The White Stripes, launched Third Man Records in 2001, which has since positioned itself as "an innovator in the world of vinyl records and a boundary pusher in the world of recorded music, aiming to bring tangibility and spontaneity back into the record business."

After establishing a physical location in Nashville in 2009, Third Man Records opened a second site in Detroit, and now a new vinyl pressing plant in the Motor City, providing a home to eight German-made record pressing machines. Jack White told CBS, "One day, I want this place to be like what I had heard about Henry Ford wanted for Ford Motor company. Which was you pour in raw materials on this side and out the other side of the factory pop out cars."

Above you can get a half hour tour of the new record plant from Mythbuster's Adam Savage. Enjoy.

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Hear Debussy Play Debussy: A Vintage Recording from 1913

A century ago, the great French composer Claude Debussy sat down at a contraption called a Welte-Mignon reproducing piano and recorded a series of performances for posterity.  The machine was designed to encode the nuances of a pianist's playing, including pedaling and dynamics, onto piano rolls for later reproduction, like the one above.

Debussy recorded 14 pieces onto six rolls in Paris on or before November 1, 1913. According to Debussy enthusiast Steve Bryson's Web site, the composer was delighted with the reproduction quality, saying in a letter to Edwin Welte: "It is impossible to attain a greater perfection of reproduction than that of the Welte apparatus. I am happy to assure you in these lines of my astonishment and admiration of what I heard. I am, Dear Sir, Yours Faithfully, Claude Debussy."

The selection above is "La soirée dans Grenade" ("Grenada in the evening"), from Debussy's 1903 trio of compositions titled Estampes, or "Prints." Debussy was inspired by the Symbolist poets and Impressionist painters who strove to go beyond the surface of a subject to evoke the feeling it gave off. "La soirée dans Grenade" is described by Christine Stevenson at Notes From a Pianist as a "sound picture" of Moorish Spain:

Debussy's first-hand experience of Spain was negligible at that time, but he immediately conjures up the country by using the persuasive Habenera dance rhythm to open the piece--softly and subtly. It insinuates itself into our consciousness with its quiet insistence on a repeated C sharp in different registers; around it circles a languid, Moorish arabesque, with nasal augmented 2nds, and a nagging semitone pulling against the tonal centre, occasionally interrupted by muttering semiquavers [16th notes] and a whole-tone based passage. Debussy writes Commencer lentement dans un rythme nonchalamment gracieux [Begin slowly in a casually graceful rhythm] at the beginning, but later Tres rythmé [Very rythmic] in a brightly lit A major as the dance comes out of the shadows, ff [Fortissimo--loudly], with the click of castanets and the stamping of feet.

Debussy was 52-years-old and suffering from cancer when he made his piano roll recordings. He died less than five years later, on March 25, 1918. Since then his beautiful and evocative music has secured a place for him as one of the most influential and popular composers of the 20th century. As Roger Hecht writes at Classical Net, "Debussy was a dreamer whose music dreamed with him."

Note: This post originally appeared on our site in January 2013.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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Rebecca Solnit Picks 13 Songs That Will Remind Us of Our Power to Change the World, Even in Seemingly Dark Times

Image by Shawn, via Flickr Commons

Apocalypses have always been popular as mass belief and entertainment. Maybe it’s a collective desire for retribution or redemption, or a kind of vertigo humans experience when staring into the abyss of the unknown. Better to end it all than live in neurotic uncertainty. Maybe we find it impossible to think of a future world existing hundreds, thousands, millions of years after our deaths. As Rebecca Solnit observes in Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, “people have always been good at imagining the end of the world, which is much easier to picture than the strange sidelong paths of change in a world without end.” What if the world never ends, but goes on forever, changing and evolving in unimaginable ways?

This is the bailiwick of science fiction, but also the domain of history, a hindsight view of centuries past when wars, tyrannical conquests, famines, and diseases nearly wiped out entire populations—when it seemed to them a near certainty that nothing would or could survive the present horror. And yet it did.

This may be no consolation to the victims of violence and plague, but the world has gone on for the living, people have adapted and survived, even under the current, very real threats of nuclear war and catastrophic climate change. And throughout history, both small and large groups of people have changed the world for the better, though it hardly seemed possible at the time. Solnit's book chronicles these histories, and last year, she released a playlist as a companion for the book.

Hope in the Dark makes good on its title through a collection of essays about “everything,” writes Alice Gregory at The New York Times, “from the Zapatistas to weather forecasting to the fall of the Berlin Wall.” The book is “part history of progressive success stories, part extended argument for hope as a catalyst for action.” Solnit wrote the book in 2004, during the reelection of George W. Bush—a time when progressives despaired of ever seeing the end of chickenhawk sabre-rattling, wars for profit, privatization of the public sphere, environmental degradation, theocratic political projects, curtailing of civil rights, or the disaster capitalism the administration wholeheartedly embraced (as Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine detailed). Plus ça change....

In March of last year, Haymarket Books reissued Hope in the Dark, and on November 10th, Solnit posted a link to a free download of the book on Facebook. It was downloaded over 30,000 times in one week. Along with other progressive intellectuals like Klein and Richard Rorty, Solnit—who became internationally known for the term “mansplaining” in her essay, then book, Men Explain Things to Me—has now been cast as a “Cassandra figure of the left,” Gregory writes. But she rejects the disastrous futility inherent in that analogy:

If you think of a kind of ecology of ideas, there are more than enough people telling us how horrific and terrible and bad everything is, and I don’t really need to join that project. There’s a whole other project of trying to counterbalance that — sometimes we do win and this is how it worked in the past. Change is often unpredictable and indirect. We don’t know the future. We’ve changed the world many times, and remembering that, that history, is really a source of power to continue and it doesn’t get talked about nearly enough.

If we don’t hear enough talk about hope, maybe we need to hear more hopeful music, Solnit suggests in her Hope in the Dark playlist. Thirteen songs long, it moves between Beyoncé and The Clash, Iggy Pop and Stevie Nicks, Black Flag and Big Freedia.

While the selections speak for themselves, she offers brief commentary on each of her choices in a post at Powell’s. Beyoncé’s “Formation,” Solnit writes, “reformulates, digging deep into the past of sorrow and suffering and injustice and pulling us all with her into a future that could be different.” Patti Smith’s anthem “People Have the Power” feels like hope, Solnit says: “it’s right about the power we have, which obliges us to act, and which many duck by pretending we’re helpless.” Maybe that’s what apocalypses are all about—making us feel small and powerless in the face of impending doom. But there are other kinds of religion, like that of Lee Williams’ “Steal My Joy.” It’s a “gorgeous gospel song,” writes Solnit. “Joystealers are everywhere. Never surrender to them.” That sounds like an ideal exhortation to imagine and fight for a better future.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Secret Rhythm Behind Radiohead’s “Videotape” Now Finally Revealed

“Videotape” ends Radiohead’s 2007 album In Rainbows, and like many of their albums, it tends towards the funereal. (Think of the drunken “Life in a Glasshouse” from Amnesiac or “Motion Picture Soundtrack” from Kid A). And at first, it does sound very simple, four plaintive descending chords and Thom Yorke’s high melody over the top of it.

But in this 10 minute video essay from Vox Pop: Earworm, the song’s structure is peeled back to reveal a secret--that the chord sequence is not on the downbeat, but shifted a half-beat earlier. Hence, it is a heavily syncopated song that removes all clues to its syncopation.

Advanced musicians out there might not be blown away by any of this, but for fans of Radiohead and those just coming to music theory, the video is a good introduction to complex rhythm ideas. The fun comes from the backwards way in which Vox and Warren Lain--who devoted a whole 30 minutes to exploring the song--came across the secret.

It starts with video of Thom Yorke trying to play a live version along to a click track, and then to Phil Selway’s drums. For some reason Yorke can’t do it. And that’s because his brain is wanting to put the chords on the downbeat, the most natural, obvious choice. To play off beat, without further rhythmic information, shows the band “fighting against not just their own musical instincts, but their own brainwaves" as the Vox host explains.

There is much discussion in the YouTube comments over whether these 10 minutes are worth the analysis. It’s not that Radiohead invented anything new here--check out the off-beat opening of something like XTC’s “Wake Up”--but more that the band goes through the whole song (at least in the recorded version) without revealing the real rhythm, like playing in a certain key and never touching the root note.

To sum up: Radiohead push themselves in the studio and take those experiments into the live experience and challenge themselves. Which is way more than the majority of rock bands ever do. And bless ‘em, Yorke and co., for doing so.

via Kottke

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

The Roland TR-808, the Drum Machine That Changed Music Forever, Is Back! And It’s Now Affordable & Compact

You don’t have to be a gearhead to instantly recognize the sound of the Roland TR-808. Introduced in 1980, the legendary drum machine is all over the 80s, 90s, and the retro 2000s, from dance progenitors like Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock” to formative Def Jam releases like Run DMC’s debut and the Beastie Boy’s Licensed to Ill (one of the original machines used on such classics recently went on sale). The 808 provides the backbeat for Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing,” New Order’s “Shellshock,” and LL Cool J’s “Going Back to Cali”... track after era-defining track pulses with the iconic drum machine’s deep, thudding kick drum and comically synthetic congas, claves, maracas, handclaps, and cowbells.

The 808 inspired a tribute celebration around the world on August 8th (8/08) and stars in its own full-length documentary, “a nerdy love letter" to the electric instrument, writes Slate. You can buy 808 Adidas that actually play beats, play with a virtual TR-808 in your browser, and enjoy the sounds of Kanye West’s oddly influential 2008 album 808s and Heartbreak. With all this renewed attention, you might think it’s a good time for Japan’s Roland to bring the device back into production, just as Moog briefly reissued its Minimoog Model D (since discontinued) amidst a swirl of renewed mainstream interest in analog synthesizers.

Roland has obviously felt the pop cultural winds blowing its way. Yesterday, on 808 Day, the company announced a new iteration, now called the TR-08, as part of its Boutique line. (A previous revival, the TR-8, saw Roland combine the 808 with the classic 909, renowned in rave circles.) The video at the top features some of the 808’s original adopters—producer Jimmy Jam, rapper Marley Marl, and DJs Jazzy Jeff and Juan Atkins—marveling over the new product. Just above, in case you’ve somehow forgotten, we have a demonstration of famous TR-808 beats from tracks like “Planet Rock” and Cybotron’s “Clear,” songs that made innovative use of samples and which themselves became choice material for dozens of sample-based productions.

The 808 was the choice of drum machine for tinkerers. Its sound was “crowd-sourced,” writes Chris Norris, “with artists building on one another’s modifications of the device. One of the first major innovations came about in 1984,” with the “fine tuning of the 808’s low frequencies and further widening of its bass kick drum to create the sound of an underground nuke test” heard on producer Strafe’s club hit “Set it Off.” The new TR-08 has a much smaller footprint and expands the machine’s capabilities with contemporary features like an LED screen, controls over gain and tuning, battery or USB power, and audio or MIDI through a USB connection.

Arguably “one of the most impactful pieces of modern music hardware,” writes The Verge, upon its debut the 808 “received mixed reviews and was considered a commercial failure as its analog circuitry didn’t create the ‘traditional’ drum sounds” most producers expected. This meant that 808s could be picked up relatively cheaply by bedroom producers and local DJs. As a result, “the trembling feeling of that sound,” Norris writes, “booming down boulevards in Oakland, the Bronx, and Detroit are part of America’s cultural DNA, the ghost of Reagan-era blight” and the renaissance of creativity born in its midst. To get a sense of the breadth of the 808’s musical contributions, listen to the playlist above, with everyone from Talking Heads to 2 LIVE CREW, Phil Collins, and Whitney Houston putting in an appearance.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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