Classical Music in Video | eReviews | October 1, 2012

Alexander Street Press; free trials

Content Classical Music in Video (CMV) is a streaming video collection designed to support the study of classical music, and includes music appreciation, history, performance, and analysis and theory. It covers music from medieval times to the 21st century, with historical recordings from the 1950s to the present.

Performances recorded include chamber music, oratorio, orchestral performances by leading orchestras, and solo performances. An exclusive feature of this file is access to the full set of 41 titles (plus new releases) of the “Masterclass” series from Masterclass Media Foundation, which showcases top-level musicians teaching the performance of works with which they are associated. When completed, the series will cover all instrument groups, as well as singing, chamber music, conducting, and composing.

The videos are filmed with multiple camera angles to capture teacher commentary and performance techniques. The file also includes documentaries profiling classical artists and their work. At present it provides streaming access to 601 works, with more than 300 hours of video; that will grow to 1000 hours when the file is completed in 2013. New titles are added on an ongoing basis. The file is cross-searchable with the Alexander Street Press’s (ASP) “Opera in Video” and “Dance in Video,” databases in libraries that subscribe to those resources. Streaming rates for the files are 400kbps for the standard and 800kbps for the large screen. Users can create customized playlists in the file and annotate, edit, copy, or share them; all playlists contain a unique, static URL.

Usability The CMV home screen offers material in many ways: the top toolbar sports a simple search box with a dropdown menu to search people, titles, subtitles, or all. Also in that toolbar are buttons for home, browse, advanced search, playlists, what’s new, and help. On the left side of the screen are links to browse all people, clips, composers, ensembles, genres, roles, time periods, venues, videos, material types (documentary, general reference, interview, masterclass, performance), and genre (anthem, aria, art song, bagatelle, ballade, ballet, bossa nova, etc.). The central, largest portion of the screen is occupied by a revolving carousel of linked illustrations and album covers of featured works and a link to browse all titles.

Browsing the bossa nova genre led to a single video recording: the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra performing “The Girl from Ipanema,” conducted by Kurt Masur in a gala performance celebrating his 80th birthday. I viewed both the standard (excellent quality) and full screen (a little grainy but not bad) views of the performance, and was able to see both overviews of the entire orchestra as well as the violinists’ fingering, the flutists’ swaying, and the smiles on both performers and conductor, all obviously taking delight in performing the piece. Great fun, highly entertaining, but also wonderful to see instrument performance, ensemble performance, and master conducting. It was also ridiculously easy to embed a link to the video into a LibGuide, which is wonderful.

My first simple search, for “Rhapsody in Blue,” found a video of a 2003 performance by Marcus Roberts, Roland Guerin, Jason Marsalis, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Marcus Roberts Trio, conducted by Seiji Ozawa. Gorgeous! The multiple cameras capture Ozawa’s con brio conducting, as well as shaded nuances in the slightly different arrangement of Georage Gershwin’s classic: Roberts’s riffs on the piano bring wide smiles of appreciation from the other players (although it’s a surprise the camera didn’t focus on the clarinettist’s opening glissando, which, an anecdote attached to the video notes, “…was originally notated as a seventeen-note scale. [Paul] Whiteman’s clarinettist, Ross Gorman, turned it into a glissando as a joke and Gershwin liked it so much he kept it!”

Browsing composers for “Charles Ives” returned the documentary Fourteen, based on the composition of the same name by John Cage, directed by Andrew Culver, and performed by the Ives Ensemble in 2004. Also offered are (again extremely easy to use) tools for making clips with this performance, whose semisurreal images echoed the music beautifully.

Next I browsed the Masterclass section, finding a 2010 masterclass taught by Emanuel Ax, with Samson Tsoy performing and being instructed in the performance of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata #2 in A Major. The camera’s many different angles show aspects of the performance one wouldn’t normally be able to see, and the interaction between master musician and student enhances the video’s instructional value.

An advanced search of titles for “Carmen” uncovered three choices. I chose the proffered “Prelude from Carmen,” and found the video of the rousing performance by Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra (conducted by Kurt Masur, from Kurt Masur: A Life in Music (EuroArts, 2007). Advanced search allows queries by title, subtitle, people, role, genre, instrument, ensemble, publisher, time period, original language, subtitle language, sung in, venue, recording date, and catalog number, with excellent search tips displayed at screen left.

The browsability, searchability, quality of videos, and ease of use are superb here; ASP has obviously poured an enormous amount of thought and effort into the database. And I especially love that clips can be embedded into courseware and LibGuides so easily.

I yearn for more content, but that’s coming, and wish that it were possible to include subtitles for videos onscreen, rather than as text to be read separately. But that’s a small quibble given the quality of what’s here and the ways users can access and arrange it.

Pricing Annual subscriptions start at $1,105 for U.S. academic libraries and at $995 for U.S. public libraries; outright purchase for both types of institution starts at $10,000. For both subscription and perpetual rights options, pricing is based on FTE plus the materials budget (for academic libraries) or population served (for public libraries).

Verdict An outstanding addition to ASP’s other video databases in the arts, and an excellent selection for libraries supporting serious students and researchers in the arts. I look forward eagerly to the file’s completion next year.

Cheryl LaGuardia About Cheryl LaGuardia

Cheryl LaGuardia always wanted to be a librarian, and has been one for more years than she's going to admit. She cracked open her first CPU to install a CD-ROM card in the mid-1980's, pioneered e-resource reviewing for Library Journal in the early 90's (picture calico bonnets and prairie schooners on the web...), won the Louis Shores / Oryx Press Award for Professional Reviewing, and has been working for truth, justice, and better electronic library resources ever since. Reach her at, where she's a Research Librarian at Harvard University.