Classical music is probably more familiar than we might at first imagine. Indeed, nowadays it is all around us, whether it be in restaurants, supermarkets, lifts, for advertising or as theme and incidental music on television. A great deal of film music either directly uses or draws from the 'classical' tradition; a good example of the former might be '2001: Space Odyssey', and of the latter, the many scores John Williams has composed in recent years for such blockbusters as the Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies.
In the vast and wide-ranging world of 'classical' music there is truly something there for everyone - pieces which once discovered represent the start of an exciting and irresistible journey which will provide a lifetime's listening pleasure. For example, those who are particularly excited by hearing instrumentalists working at full stretch will thrill to the likes of Liszt and Paganini, or if something a little more reserved and self-contained is required, the chamber music of Haydn or Mozart would be a good starting point. If a full symphony orchestra in overdrive is more to your taste then Tchaikovsky or Richard Strauss could well fit the bill, whereas those who have already warmed to Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons' might well try the music of some of the great Italian's contemporaries such as Handel, Johann Sebastian Bach or Domenico Scarlatti. Whatever your tastes may be, there has never been a better time to start building a 'classical' music collection on CD.
Any attempt to define what is meant literally by the term 'classical' music is fraught with difficulty. How does one encapsulate in just a few words a musical tradition which encompasses such infinite varieties of style and expression, from the monastic intonings of Gregorian chant to the laid-back jazz inflections of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, from the elegant poise of Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik to the despairing, heightened emotionalism of Tchaikovsky's "Pathetique" Symphony? One is treading on very dangerous ground indeed if one pre-supposes that it is simply 'superior' to other musical types such as popular, jazz, rock and the like, let alone the music of other cultures.
In general 'popular' music may be as clear in expression as the longer examples of 'classical' music. One important difference, however, lies in the logical connection that exists in 'classical ' music between the beginning and end, with the latter a logical extension and development of the former. 'Popular' music, on the other hand, tends to present its material without development, the music ending when interest is exhausted.
Sadly, whilst 'classical' music is socially undivisive in itself, it has unfortunately become associated in most people's minds with the intellectual elite. Even now, and with certain honourable exceptions, the attending of a 'live' concert can be an intimidating (not to say costly) experience for the uninitiated, especially in that most jealously guarded of establishments, the opera house. The wonderful thing about the technological age in which we live, and particularly the advent of the compact disc, is that we can bypass all irrelevant social and intellectual pretence, and enjoy in the comfort of our own home (often at far less cost) some of the finest music ever composed.
With such a breathtaking variety of material available, it is an awesome task to know just where to begin your disc collection, and as a result expensive mistakes are often made as tempting looking purchases turn out to be something of a disappointment. This is where the Naxos catalogue really comes into its own, and where it is hoped this guide will help prospective purchasers to make an informed choice about the kind of music they are likely to enjoy.
The Naxos label provides a library of high quality performances of music by the great masters in modern digital sound; accompanied by authoritative and user-friendly booklet notes and at the lowest possible price. There are already nearly 600 titles from which to choose, and with new releases emerging at the rate of about eight every month, even the enthusiastic collector is well and truly catered for. With every historical period and genre covered, there is something in the Naxos catalogue for everyone, especially those who wish to build a truly representative collection of the central masterworks in the 'classical' tradition.