The Well-Tempered Ear

What’s the best classical music for an Ipod or MP3?

September 11, 2009

By Jacob Stockinger

Christmas came early this year when Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced on Wednesday this week that the new generation of Ipod Nanos will have FM/AM radio receiver as well as video/audio recording possibilities and a pedometer. To see the impressive new features, visit

So, here’s what The Ear wants to know: What is the best classical music to put on your Ipod or MP-3 player?Ipods

I don’t like listening to music that is very loud or has sharp dynamic contrasts. It literally hurts my ears, and studies seems to show that prolonged listening to loud music through ear buds or headphones will physically hurt anyone’s hearing.

(I cut down on possible inner ear damage, and also on being dangerously insulated from sounds around me, by using Sony’s micro-earphones that sit just outside the ear rather than Apple’s earbuds that sit inside the ear canal.)

So I generally favor music that is pretty consistent in its sonic levels. (And now I can also listen to live radio news programs like NPR’s “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered” as well as interview shows like Terri Gross’ “Fresh Air” (although I will continue to avoid food fight talk radio.)

The musical works I currently listen to most on my older model Ipod are: J.S. Bach’s six partitas for piano (Richard Goode’s two volumes for Nonesuch); Bach’s Two-Part Inventions and Three-Part Sinfonias with the French Suite No. 5 and the Well-Tempered Clavier Book I (both by Till Fellner on ECM); Bach’s “Goldberg:” Variations (Andras Schiff’s second version, made for ECM); Bach’s solo violin sonatas and partitas (Arthur Grumiaux on Philips); Schubert’s “Moments Musicaux” by Alfred Brendel (Philips); several volumes of Mozart’s piano sonatas (Alfred Brendel on Philips) and Haydn;’s piano sonatas (Andras Schiff on Teldec); and Chopin’s Waltzes (Alexandre Tharaud  on Harmonia Mundi) and Preludes (Maurizio Pollini on Deutsche Grammophon).

That’s just a sample, which is admittedly heavy on solo piano. (In my living room or study, I listen to a lot more chamber music and symphonic music.) But even then, there is little pounding piano on the list.

But I really can’t imagine listening to a Beethoven or Mahler or Shostakovich symphony on my Ipod.

But that’s me.

Do other classical fans use Ipods or MP3s a lot?

Share what classical music you prefer and find most listenable on portable players? Maybe I’ll or others will add it.

Do you have favorite piece of string or wind music, a favorite symphony or concerto, a vocal or choral work, a string quartets or piano trio that works well on portable devices and that you listen to often on your Ipod or MP3?

What CDs (with composer, piece and artist) do you have loaded on your I-Pod or MP-3?

And if you got a new Ipod, or intend to get one, what do you think of it and will you use it for classical music?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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