Many readers will recall the excellent feature entitled ‘Too many records’ which used to feature in the much-lamented ‘International Record Review’ magazine. I suspect the title strikes a chord with many of us. I suppose I have about 2000 CDs and 1500 LPs, as well as about 300 opera and music DVDs. This is a far cry from when I was a boy in the 1950’s, when I had about 20 precious LPs. In those days I spent whole weeks playing them over and over again, until I could almost sing my way through the entire works. The performances have lived with me ever since – Menuhin playing the Beethoven and Mendelssohn concertos, Milstein playing the Tchaikovsky, Gilels the Emperor, Solomon playing Beethoven 3 etc.
Fast forward to the present, and I have this huge over-accumulation of ‘canned’ music. The chance of any single CD being played is infinitesimally small, and each new CD reduces it even further. My LPs actually sound slightly better than the CDs, if one can ignore the clicks and plops and the suspicion of a slight ‘wobble’ from a warped disc, whether real or imagined. However the physical side of getting the record out of its sleeve and putting it on is a deterrent, so I rarely bother. And when I decide to play a CD, I go to the shelves and try to select one of the 2000. That’s when the problems start ! There is simply too much choice.
My CDs are arranged alphabetically – so do I go for some Bach, from the top shelf ? If so what ? And if a particular piece, which of the versions do I choose ? It reminds me of a child in a massive toy or sweet shop – there are so many ‘goodies’ that the act of choosing just one of them induces a sort of paralysis. Or how about some Beethoven ? How about say one of the symphonies ? But I have about 6 sets – which shall I choose ? How about Karajan – or Klemperer – or Haitink – or Colin Davis – or Barenboim – or Walter ? (Obviously I will give period instrument performances a miss !) And then which symphony shall I choose ? Or how about a Beethoven piano sonata ? But which particular sonata and which of my current 10 sets (ie 320 sonatas), will I listen to ? Somehow the choice seems inordinately difficult and paralyzing – because of the over-abundance on offer ! After 5 minutes of this agonizing and painful indecision, verging on mental torture, I usually give up completely and see what’s on Radio 3 or Classic FM – or the telly !
I don’t think I am alone in having these problems. Some people transfer all their CDs to a hard disk, but that doesn’t solve the problem of having to choose something to play, and which performance. Those who use Spotify or other streaming service will have a similar problem. I heard a neat solution described on the radio years ago by the late Norman Del Mar, the well-known conductor. He stated (as I recall) that he had numbered all his recordings, and had devised some method of producing a random order of numbers. Then he forced himself to stick to this order of CDs (or LPs) to be played. I think I will have to survive long enough to receive the Queen’s telegram to achieve this with my current collection ! An alternative, which most readers will choose, is to surrender oneself to the choices of radio presenters – and be either irritated or pleasantly surprised, either by the pieces or the performers they choose. And so my CDs will remain unplayed, on the shelf.
So the chances of any CDs being actually played is very small. Paradoxically this doesn’t stop me reading all the CD magazines (particularly Gramophone and BBC Music Magazine) from cover to cover, and salivating over the prospect of buying yet more CDs, particularly those tempting box sets of great performers from years ago, now available at bargain basement prices. I realize that much of the pleasure derived from buying them is the guilty thrill of the purchase, rather than actually listening to the CDs, which isn’t really feasible with all those recordings. I don’t usually tell my wife. So it is a sort of shopping addiction, but I suppose as secret vices go, it’s less harmful than most ! The only problem is putting up more and more shelves to house them, plus the guilt in knowing that they will, in all probability, never be played. I would be interested to see if others suffer from the same sort of paradoxical paralysis, induced by having – literally – ‘too many records’ and too much choice.