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Free Classical Music on the Web

Posted by scirel on March 19, 2009

This will be an ongoing post where I will list substantial sites where free, DOWNLOADABLE, classical music can be easily gotten. There is a whole bunch of music available that is of high quality and is offered without strings attached and is not ripped off from commercially available recordings! These listings are annotated and I will try to give you hints on where to find stuff (as needed), and also share relevant things I’ve learned through visiting these sites.

Again, these are sites where the music is of substantial quality. Mp3 downloads will be at 128kbps quality or higher. They are most often complete works. What is listed here, though, has taken me a lot of time to download and fills many, many gigabytes of storage. These are all, of course, only available for private use, and I am quite conscientious about not listing offerings that are available as commercial releases so that artists and labels don’t get ripped off. Please let me know if I am doing this – thanks.

If you have found any sites to add to these please let me know and if it checks out I will add them. Thanks. And enjoy…

PART 1: VERY SUBSTANTIAL FINDS:

1. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Freebies:

RCO Freebies

Go there NOW as they have extended the time for making these available and I know not when they will be removed. Offered are nine full symphonies performed by arguably the finest orchestra in the world. You will need to sign up to download them, but it is well worth it. I ended up editing the files so as to break them up into movements and to remove an announcement at the end of each file. Also, they offer CD sleeve pdf’s for you to print out as well! But the Bruckner 8th will not fit on a single disc, so if you want that on a CD you will have to edit the last movement out using a WAV editor and make separate files. A decent free wave editor is Audacity, but there are plenty of good, free audio editors out there for such a task if you are handy with such things.

They have also generously included three more symphonies with Haitink conducting, in honor of his 80th birthday:

Haitink Recordings

UPDATE – At the last attempt, the link to the ten symphonies is not working, but the link to the Haitink recordings is still available. I will keep an eye on this…
UPDATE 2 – Well, these are both gone now, but if you go to this Radio 4 Downloads site and sign up, you will find 10 new works available for download along with the artwork. But they only let you download 9 of them (the Beethoven 9th is unavailable unless you live in the Netherlands).

2.  The Danish Radio Freebies:

This site continually updates their offerings and keeps them available, so once you go there and grab everything, you can check back every few months to see if they have anything new:

Link to DR Downloads

Look in the upper left of this page for the DOWNLOAD button to get to a page that links you to their treasure-trove of live performances that are available for download. The quality of these is consistently high. You can also find many archived performances that are not available for download but can be gotten on demand and streamed to you at a decent bit rate (I believe it is 64Kbits).

UPDATE – This appears to be dead and gone now.

3. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Podcasts:

ISGM Podcast Page

Here you will find recordings of performances at the Museum. They are mostly chamber or solo performances. If you go to this site:

ISGM Composer Listing Page

you will have access to the actual works of the composers without the commentary. The performances are at a very high level. They constantly add new performances so you can go to the site every few months and grab the new stuff they would have posted.

4. Deutsche Welle:

This site includes a bunch of performances from the Bonn Beethoven Festival and more and is worth checking out (this link will get you to a browsing center). Some of the Beethovenfest recordings are lower quality (64Kbits), but many are 128Kbits and above. Here are the links to the actual podcast pages:

Nagano Recordings

Beethovenfest Recordings

5. Avant Garde Project:

There is a whole bunch of music on this site! Basically, this site includes transcriptions from LPs of Avant Garde music from the 20th Century of all kinds. The recordings are generally of a very high quality with little surface noise and only an occasional click or pop, so don’t let this deter you. They are available in both FLAC (16bit, 44KHz) and 192Kbits mp3 formats. Expand your mind 🙂 Good stuff:

UPDATE! The editor of this site has called it quits, but as of now the recordings are still available on mirror sites. These are:

Avant Garde Project

As well as a link to the mp3 stash of the recordings here, which is a few recordings short of the FLAC offerings.

A FLAC interface can be downloaded for free here.

6. The Pandora Recordings

Basically the entire discography of this now-defunct label is available for free. Again, there is A LOT of stuff here. The main offerings are solo and chamber music. The analog transcriptions are high quality, and most music is played at a high level. I will admit the orchestral works are generally not that great as they are typically performed by university orchestras, but otherwise most stuff is really nice. The Martha Goldstein recordings are particularly fine.

I would highly suggest getting a download manager (DM) to grab these files as they tended to stop downloading in the middle for no apparent reason. But I got a free DM and it worked fine after that. The free DM I got is called FlashGet; it has proved to work quite well: FlashGet Link

Pandora Recordings

Also, many of the links to Pandora’s excellent Soni Ventorum Wind Quintet are conveniently collected here. However, this link is also listed as a separate entry below since there are a number of recordings not available from the Pandora links.

7. The BBC Beethoven Recordings:

These were offered some time ago and were removed from the BBC site, but someone linked to some stashed files on Beemp3. They were available for private non-commercial use, so I figured it is cool to grab these. There are a bunch of mp3s that are linked on this site that are clearly ripped off from commercially available releases, so please use your discretion. The symphonies are conveniently pointed to at the following link. These are very nice performances:

BBC Beethoven Recordings

8. Radio New Zealand:

This is a site that posts a monthly download, so you can go there every month (or two, since they keep two month’s worth posted). But what I have gotten so far is of a high quality for performance and sound:

Radio New Zealand Link

9. Free Downloads Every Week:

These sites are commercial sites that offer full albums or works every week. You will need to sign up with Classical.com to get their albums, but so far it has been well worth the effort. Most releases have been excellent, but they have also offered a few duds. I have my yahoo email account send me a reminder every week to go to the site:

Alexander Street Press UPDATE – This appears to be updated fairly regularly now.

Classical.com Free Downloads (Quite reliably updated.) UPDATE – This site is no longer offering downloads, just an album for listening. I have often seen the tracks end short, but I don’t know if this is an issue with me or them.

UPDATE 2 – This appears to be dead and gone now.

10. Radio Sweden Mozart Podcasts:

Posted are about eight works by the genius. There are a bunch of repeats on the page for some reason, and the recordings are a bit old but still very nice:

Radio Sweden Mozart Recordings

UPDATE – This appears to be dead and gone now.

11. Musik Kollegium Winterthur:

Wow – another gem appears…
Billed as the oldest Swiss orchestra, this band is very good indeed, and these recordings are very nice. Included are a couple Beethoven symphonies, Dvorak’s 6th, Mendelssohn’s 3rd, some substantial Mozart works, Liszt’s 2nd piano concerto, two Shubert symphonies, Schumann’s Spring symphony, and quite a bit more. Everything is coded at 128Kbits and is well-recorded. Enjoy:

Musik Kollegium Winterthur Downloads

12. Idil Biret Archive:

This is a fairly generous offering from the famous world-class pianist. Included is artwork for a CD you can make with Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody and Bartok’s 2nd Piano Concerto. Very nice:

Idil Biret Archive

13. Dimitris Sgouros Archive:

A generous offering from the wunderkind pianist. It includes a very good, complete, recording of the Rach 3 concerto (performed when he was 14!):

Dimitris Sgouros Archive

14. Tasmin Little Free CD:

This site includes files and artwork for a complete CD of three works for solo violin. Also included are some lectures from Tasmin describing the works. Not only is Tasmin a world-class talent, she comes off as a very upbeat and likable person. No snobbery here. Neato:

Tasmin Little’s free CD

15. The WGBH Podcasts:

This Boston-based station has archived some podcasts of recordings that were made in their studio by visiting musicians. They are mostly solo and chamber works. The performances have been excellent so far, but include the intros from the radio broadcasts. I had to move this up from Part 2 since the recordings and performances are complete and are played at a consistently high level. I especially recommend the Yaron Kohlberg podcast – WOW!

I strongly recommend using a download manager for these (see entry 6 above) as they tend to drop out for no apparent reason and yet still end up in your folder, but will be cut short when you play them. In the first link you will also find a lot of duplicates, and I found that the ones posted to the http://streams.wgbh.org site were reliable, so download from these entries. The second link contains the more recent entries and download reliably using a DM, but go to the first site if you want their backlog as well:

WGBH Podcasts (Links to backlog as well)
Original WGBH Podcasts (WGBH’s main RSS feed site)

16. Bach Organ Works:

James Kibbie is recording all of Bach’s Organ works and is offering them for the best price of all… free!
Thanks to all involved in this project, and to Bill for the heads up.
They are offered in 256K AAC and 128K mp3 formats.
The pieces I’ve heard thus far are top rate indeed:

Bach Organ Works

17. Seven Free Symphonies on Amazon!:

I don’t know how long this will last, but Naxos has offered seven free symphonies from their catalog on the Amazon web site.
You will see other free sampler offers show up on the bottom of the page, but nothing touches these. Encoded at 256Kbits. Very cool!

Seven free Naxos-label symphonies

UPDATE! It appears this is no longer available, but I’ll leave it up for now in case they change their minds. But Amazon does provide a decent amount of free classical music in the form of sampler discs which will show up at the bottom of the page once you find at least one like this one. Amazon also carries a whole bunch of nice, cheap deals in the form of “99 most essential” offerings (just search on this term in the MP3 Downloads store). The best they have so far is the Saint-Saens offering that includes at least five complete BIS albums worth of stuff for a low price.

18. Free Chandos CD Every Month:

You can get a free CD every month from Chandos.
You need to register at their site, and sign up for the newsletter, then every month they will email you with the file
links embedded in the email. The one I just got was encoded at 320Kbits.
Some folks have had problems with receiving their newsletters after signing up (like me), so I go to the second site I list here to see what I may have missed.

Register here, then sign up for newsletter, and wait…
This site reliably updates the links to the latest offering

19. Serg van Gennip:

This site includes a generous offering of recordings in 160Kbit mp3 format. A talented young pianist indeed!

Serg van Gennip

UPDATE – These downloads appear to no longer be available, but this links to a nice selection of streaming audio recordings.

20. Alessio Benvenuti plays Bach’s sonatas and partitas for solo violin:

He plays them nicely, too:

BWV1001 – 1003
BWV1004 – 1006

21. Ubu Web:

A boat load of stuff is offered on this site! Most of it is avant garde, but you will find composers such as Eric Satie as well:

Ubu web

22. Jerusalem Music Center:

A center presided over by the incredible pianist Murray Perahia. They offer some free recordings of the many talented musicians they work with:

Jerusalem Music Center

23. SHSK’H:

An interesting site, created to promote and sell the music of its creators, they have a few albums of lean & peaceful avant garde offerings. They ask for donations, but the albums are freely downloadable:

SHSK’H

24. Nima Sarkechik:

Nima is a concert pianist who is offering two full recordings of Beethoven’s 3rd and 4th piano concertos, plus a few shorter solo pieces:

Nima Sarkechik Recordings

UPDATE – These downloads are no longer available, but this links to a smattering of online video performances that Nima offers.

25. Patricia Kopatchinskaja:

Here is a nice smattering of sample recordings from this talented violinist. They are mostly excerpts, but she does include the complete Beethoven Triple Concerto. I decided to graduate this up to the major section because of the Triple, also, she is just a really good musician:

Patricia Kopatchinskaja Samples

UPDATE – These downloads are no longer available, but this links to a smattering of some streaming performances that Patricia offers.

I think Patricia can now easily be considered to be standing amongst the world’s very greatest violinists. Ever.

26. Ivan Ilić:

Another wonderful offering of substantive piano pieces from masters and modern composers. Very well-played:

Ivan Ilić Audio Archive

27. Alexander Lokshin Archive:

Alexander Lokshin was a contemporary of Shostakovich. Unfortunately, he did not rise to the same level of fame as that greatest of Russian composers (that ought to raise a few hairs). But here is a free archive of enough of his music to get a fine taste of his work:

Alexander Lokshin Recordings

28. Dacapo Records is offering free albums:

Like the Chandos site, Dacapo records has been, on occasion, offering some of their albums for free download.
You will see the offer on their main page; simply click on it and make an account with them to get the free albums:

Dacapo Records link for free albums

UPDATE! They have stopped the monthly downloads. However, during December they were offering a free download a day, so it may still be useful to get signed up with Dacapo.

29. Luna Nova Concert Recordings:

This Tennessee – based chamber group has archived a generous amount of concert recordings (comprised mostly of modern compositions). Everything I have heard so far is quite good:

Luna Nova Archives

Some recordings they don’t link to on the above site

30. Columbia University Orchestra:

A lot of the university orchestra recordings I’ve found are usually not that great, but here is one that breaks the mold:

Columbia University Orchestra recordings

31. Soni Ventorum Wind Quintet recordings:

Many of these recordings are available through the Pandora link above, but here is a site that collects these as well as a number of other recordings by this really fine chamber ensemble:

Soni Ventorum Wind Quintet recordings.

32. Orlando Festival Downloads:

Like the Concertgebouw recordings, Radio 4 NL has listed a number of chamber works from this festival. You need to click on the recording, then a direct link labeled DOWNLOAD will show up on the right side of the page:

Orlando Festival recordings.
Update: This appears to be gone now, but I’ll keep an eye on it for a while to see if it returns.

33. SWR Podcasts:

The excellent SWR Orchestra (officially the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg – say that 10 times fast!) is offering free podcasts of various works by themselves and related musicians. This is similar to the New Zealand listing above. These are really good!!! It appears they keep a running total of the latest 20 listings. They also post these on iTunes as well. Thanks to “Whitle” for the heads up!:

SWR Podcast listing.
SWR Podcast listing on iTunes.

34. New England Conservatory Podcasts, and Instant Encore site listings

These posts are found on the Instant Encore site. You will have to sign up to get to the downloads, but this is quick and painless. I am giving links to the NEC page, but once you sign up, you can get to more classical listings. Thanks again to “Whitle” for the heads up!:

New England Conservatory Podcasts on Instant Encore.
New England Conservatory main listing. Click on a link and his “Continue” until you arrive at the download page.
Instant Encore classical music listings.

35. Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College

This links to a huge repository of music from School concerts. This is a mixed bag for sure, but you will see works performed by the faculty for instance that are excellent. Thanks again to “Whitle” for the heads up!:

Aaron Copland School of Music Recordings.

36. AVRO Radio Concert Podcasts

Yikes. This is really nice. These are full length concert podcasts. They are quite long, and the performances are excellent. These are huge files, in 192Kbit MP3 format. Thanks again to “Whitle” for this link!:

AVRO Radio Podcasts

37. Radio 4 Weekly Podcasts

This site includes a link to a weekly podcast from Netherlands Radio 4. Look for the “Gratis Download” link and go from there. Great stuff. Appreciation to “Whitle” for this link – keep ’em coming!:

Radio 4 Weekly podcast link site

38. Minnesota Orchestra Free Downloads

This will barely squeak into the top tier, if not simply for the inclusion of the full work of Greenstein’s “Acadia” – an ingenious mix of minimalism with a broad-form slow work overlaying the minimalist undercurrent. There are two sites from which to get music from the MO, who recently completed perhaps one of the best overall Beethoven symphony cycles ever. Most of their stuff is the first movement of various works, along with some youth oriented concerts. You will need to sign up to order the freebie stuff, but it is worth it. Thanks again to “Whitle”!:

Minnesota Orchestra free young people’s concerts
Minnesota Orchestra – first movements, plus the Greenstein work

PART 2: SITES THAT HAVE SOME GOOD STUFF, BUT ARE NOT WHAT I CONSIDER TO BE MAJOR FINDS:

1. The Bruckner Downloads:

Available are transcriptions of Bruckner recordings that are apparently out of print. I just listened to the Sanderling version of the 7th symphony and was blown away. But still, these are older recordings, although as of late a number of recordings come from the modern era in good quality stereo sound. This could easily move to the
“Major Finds” category now, but I will keep it here for now.

Bruckner Recordings

2. Old recordings that are in the public domain:

These sites have rather large collections of old recordings that have passed into the public domain (after 50 years in Europe). Hey, in 10 years they will be well into the stereo age, so these should be getting better and better as time goes on…

Liber Liber (an Italian site)
European Archive. Available only in Europe

3. Piano Society:

This site includes recordings from (it appears) younger pianists whose careers are taking off. They are a bit uneven in performance quality and some are only at 64kbps bit rates, but with persistence I have found some nice stuff here:

Piano Society

4. The Wikipedia stash:

These are mainly OGG files that are used for example files on the various Wikipedia listings, but they link to places you can find the files. Many of them are from the Pandora recordings listed above, so watch out for duplicates:

Wikipedia Public Access Recordings

5. Classic Cat:

This is a site that basically is doing what I am doing in collating and linking to sites that give away free music. However, I screen these for quality and completeness, add some annotation, and have caught a few sites they don’t know about yet 🙂 But I figure life is a bit too short (at least for me) to listen to recordings by, for instance, the Skidmore or Peabody Orchestras (no offense to them). But they will have links to these as well as some good sites, many of which I have included:

Classic Cat Link

6. Scottish Sinfonia:

These are some nice orchestral recordings, however, they are all excerpt pieces, albeit pretty good ones. But it does include Ravel’s 2nd Daphnis and Chloe Suite:

Scottish Sinfonia Downloads

7. Some composers with their own music posted:

Here are some sites where modern composers have posted substantial examples of their own works. All nice stuff:

John Mitchell

Frederik Magle This also has a nice rendition of Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in Dm

8. Osesp Podcasts (Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo):

Here is an archive of some podcasts of Osesp concerts.
They begin with announcer introductions (speaking in Portuguese), and some pieces are not complete. But they are in 128Kbit format and are fairly decently played and recorded. Enjoy…

Osesp Podcasts

9. Sergey Schepkin:

A smattering of Bach’s prelude & fugue pieces are offered. Nicely played:

Sergey Schepkin plays Bach

10. Early music played on the guitar:

John Sayles is a very accomplished amateur guitarist who records early music and posts it for free for us to enjoy. Thanks, John!:

John Sayles plays early and Renaissance music

11. Asian classical music:

This is a site that offers a good sampling of traditional music from many eastern nations:

Asian classical music

12. American Chamber Players:

Here is a decent sampling from this talented chamber group:

American Chamber Players sampler

13. Oddio overplay:

Definitely off the beaten path for this site, but there are tons of links to all kinds of music here. I think I found all the classical ones they have and these are already included on this blog, but you may enjoy peeking through these:

Oddio overplay

14. Free albums galore:

This site posts a bunch of public domain albums that have been transcribed to digital format for your listening pleasure, but there are other links here as well. I am linking to the classical category, but there are other categories available:

Free albums galore

15. Get free access to the Naxos streaming music service!:

Okay, this is definitely off-course for this blog, but it may be something you might like…
If you sign up with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s email club, you can get access to their “Beethoven on Demand” service, which is the streaming site for Naxos. Naxos offers tons and tons of music to be sure. You will need to go through a few hoops to get access (they will send you an email to get you linked in), but the process is pretty straight forward. The streams are only in “Near CD” quality (about 64Kbit mp3 quality), but it is great for checking out music or just enjoying some background music:

Toronto Symphony mail club sign up

Update: This gigue is up

16. Tchaikovsky Galore:

Here is a Russian site that caches a number of the great master’s works. I think these might be analog transcriptions:

Tchaikovsky music stash (in Russian)

More to come! Again, any suggestions are welcome!

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