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In Praise of the Boxed Set

Boxed Sets

Articles A Beginner's Guide to Classical Music Music Periods Music Styles Collecting Classical Compact Discs Boxed Sets Glenn Gould Classical Music for Children
Before I had a CD player, I was an avid listener to classical music on the radio. We were fortunate to have 2 classical stations in the city where I lived yet, despite this variety, I quickly became sick of the fact that they played the same pieces over and over again.

Of the Beethoven piano sonatas, The Moonlight, Appassionata and the Pathetique were played almost every week, the Walstein and Hammerklavier every now and then, and the Pastoral once in my listening career. Beethoven had written 32 piano sonatas, yet only five or six of them ever got played on radio.

My curiosity was aroused. What were the other 26 sonatas like? Were they never played on radio because they were embarassing? I couldn't imagine Beethoven writing 26 terrible sonatas. Surely even a bad Beethoven sonata would still be better many other composers best works.

Beethoven complete piano sonatas, Alfred Brendel, boxed set
Beethoven Piano Sonatas
Complete Recording
Alfred Brendel
So, after getting a CD player in the mid 1980's, my first ever CD purchase was not just a single disc, but a boxed set of Alfred Brendel playing the complete sonatas of Beethoven, on 11 compact discs.

What a revelation. This was a box of treasures! Brendel specialises in the piano music of the great classicists, especially Beethoven. His recording of the sonatas is based on a lifetime of study. His performance is what I imagine Beethoven would have liked: powerful and gentle, expert but without bombast or show.

But also, the sonatas themselves were masterpieces. All 32 of them. I spent many hours listening to them and getting to know them. And 15 years later, I am still discovering new and wonderful things in this little box of discs. Some of the sonatas are less showy or less recognisable than the well-known, named sonatas, but all of them have genius. Quite simply, it is very, very good music. 12 hours of it. And had I not bought the box, even 15 years later I would have only heard a few of these pieces on radio or at the concert hall.

Based on this principle, I have since gone on to buy music in boxed sets whenever I can. Often with similar surprises and delights.

My favourites are Brendel's recording of the Schubert complete piano works, Ashkenazy's complete Chopin on 13 CD's, the complete Shostakovich symphonies and string quartets and the complete Mahler symphonies. These are solid, substantial collections that need to be digested over months or even years, but the efforts are rewarded.

Shostakovich boxed set
Shostakovich Boxed Set
As a bonus, buying complete boxed sets are usually a lot cheaper than buying the CD's individually, usually half or even a quarter of the price. Because of the slim packaging (most boxed sets are sold as CD's in card sleeves, in handsome boxes) they take up less room on the shelf and are easier to find. This is no small thing when your collection approaches 1000 discs.

Boxed sets can be as simple as a 2 CD box of the Beethoven Piano Concerti, to the monumental 181 disc Complete Mozart Edition, or the 153 disc Bach 2000 set. Every note they ever wrote. Truely a lifetime of exploration.

If you love good music and want to expand your horizons, if you want to explore everything a composer has to offer, if you are willing to take a chance and be surprised, then let the boxed set take you on a guided tour.

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