As recent digital forays by Amazon and the BBC demonstrates, however, it turns out charts that tell you what CDs sell most in a week -- on which the playlists of so many radio stations and restaurants and drinking halls are made up -- don't actually provide a reliable guide to popular taste.
When the BBC made nine Beethoven symphonies available online in 2005, it turned into the most successful online download of all time, beating out crap by the likes of Coldplay, James Blunt and U2.
Final figures from the BBC show that the complete Beethoven symphonies on its website were downloaded 1.4m times, with individual works downloaded between 89,000 and 220,000 times... According to Matthew Cosgrove, director of Warner Classics, it would take a commercial CD recording of the complete Beethoven symphonies "upwards of five years" to sell as many downloads as were shifted from the BBC website in two weeks.That was 2005. Now at the end of 2007, news is in from Amazon who have just begun selling online digital music downloads -- and who do you think was the most popular artist at the beginning of October? The Beach Boys? Rolling Stones? Pink Floyd? Someone called Kanye West? Well, they're all in the top ten, true, but beating out al that dross for number one spot is a chap by the name of Richard Wagner! How about that! Nearly one-hundred and sixty years after he began writing it, his four-opera fifteen-hour extravaganza known as the 'The Ring Cycle' is back on top.
See MP3 Maniacs Go Wild for Wagner (As in Vahg-ner) - Doree Shafrir, NY Observer.
So much for CD sales figures as a measure of popularity. I look forward to hearing more genuinely popular music next time I head to the bar.
Here's just a few YouTube excerpts so you can understand why the old boy is still so extraordinarily popular -- there's really no other music like his:
- Elizabeth Connell singing "Ewig war ich" from the finale to the opera 'Siegfried.'
- Two lovers tear up the stage in Act I of Die Walkure, and Bryn Terfel lays The Valkyrie out cold in the finale of the same opera.'
- The tremendously powerful 'Siegfried's Funeral March.' This is what the death of a hero sounds like! Turn your speakers up to eleven.
- 'Siegfried's Rhine Journey' in a live performance at NY's Met, and the 'Forest Murmurs' performed at Bayreuth.
- The delightfully evocative 'Siegfried's Horn Call' performed solo and beautifully. As the tagline says, "Super woman plays the horn..."
- Brunnhilde tears up the whole universe and burns up the Gods at the climax of the four-day extravaganza: 'The Twilight of the Gods.' (Watch carefully and you'll see Valhalla come crashing down.) Oh, and cut Gwyneth a bit of slack -- at this point she's been leaping about the stage for three days!)
- And finally, Toscanini conducting the exuberant Act III Prelude to the opera 'Lohengrin.' (Isn't YouTube wonderful -- Toscanini yet!)