iWish: iTunes “Works”

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I’ve written in the past about the complications of using iTunes and the iPod to store and play back classical music. Well, there’s a simple way that iTunes could improve the user experience for classical music fans, and it’s something that the iTunes Music Store already uses.

[Since I first posted this article in late 2004, nothing has changed. I’m re-posting it now just in case anyone at Apple is reading my blog, and happens to notice this. We classical music listeners need this functionality in iTunes and the iPod.]The iTunes Music Store lets you purchase “works” for many classical albums. While some are simply presented in a list of movements, others have works grouped together. As you can see in the above screen shot, Apple groups multi-movement works together to make it easier to purchase single works rather than entire albums; it enters the name of the work in the Grouping tag. But why doesn’t Apple use this same possibility in iTunes after you buy the music? And why can’t you use this same grouping in iTunes for your own music?

While I point out in this article that it’s easy to join tracks when importing them, this has drawbacks: you can’t see the names of individual parts of a work (which is especially annoying when listening to an opera or other long work with many parts) and you can no longer choose to listen to a specific part or movement.

Clearly, iTunes has this ability; at least for the iTunes Music Store. This would be a great feature to provide in a future version of iTunes, not only for classical music fans, but even for those who want to group their albums together in this way. In fact, you can see this in action on the iTunes Music Store listing for the Complete U2 set. Each album is listed at one level with the contents of the album at the next level.

10 thoughts on “iWish: iTunes “Works”

  1. "File…"
    "New Smart Playlist…" "Live Updating"
    "Genre is Classical"

    Sort by song title.

    The only thing you don’t have are the disclosure triangles.

    • You don’t get it – if you import CDs unjoined, or if you buy from iTunes, the
      tracks don’t stay together by work. So you’d get an aria from an opera,
      followed by a movement from a Bach cantata, followed by a string quartet
      movement, etc. Not the way to listen to classical music.

  2. "File…"
    "New Smart Playlist…" "Live Updating"
    "Genre is Classical"

    Sort by song title.

    The only thing you don’t have are the disclosure triangles.

    • You don’t get it – if you import CDs unjoined, or if you buy from iTunes, the
      tracks don’t stay together by work. So you’d get an aria from an opera,
      followed by a movement from a Bach cantata, followed by a string quartet
      movement, etc. Not the way to listen to classical music.

  3. Kirk, I’m totally with you on this wish
    My wife and I have been longing for this for a while now. We mostly want
    it for easier iPod navigation. It really sucks when you a track named
    Horn Concerto in E-Flat, Op. 999 Mvmt. 1 – Allegro. The iPod
    only
    displays a very small segment of that title in the navigation. This makes it
    really hard to find the right movement. Groupings, like those in iTMS, would
    enable you to navigate to… Artist -> Album -> Work -> Movement
    Ahh. Wouldn’t that be great. 🙂

  4. Kirk, I’m totally with you on this wish
    My wife and I have been longing for this for a while now. We mostly want
    it for easier iPod navigation. It really sucks when you a track named
    Horn Concerto in E-Flat, Op. 999 Mvmt. 1 – Allegro. The iPod
    only
    displays a very small segment of that title in the navigation. This makes it
    really hard to find the right movement. Groupings, like those in iTMS, would
    enable you to navigate to… Artist -> Album -> Work -> Movement
    Ahh. Wouldn’t that be great. 🙂

  5. Aren’t smart playlists a reasonable work around? I usually create a smart playlist for each classical CD I import or for iTunes downloads usings whatever unique field makes sense. For example, there are three discs for the Herreweghe St. Matthew passion, with the following data imported in the Album field, respectively: Bach, JS – Passion selon St Mathieu – BWV 244 – P. Herreweghe; Bach: Matthaus-Passion, BWV 244 (Herreweghe) [Disc 2]; Matthäus-Passion BWV 244.

    I have created smart playlists for each of these three CDs (cut and paste Album = ___) and relabeled them something much shorter “(Bach: Matthaus-Passion 1, etc.), but I can scroll through the contents of the playlists to select a movement and have the name of the movement displayed while I’m playng them.

    Granted it’s an extra step, and somewhat time consuming, but it does preserve movement level detail.

    • First, that’s a lot of playlists… I’ve got 100 GB of classical music in my iTunes
      library, so that’d be really hard to set up.

      Second, I’d recommend using dumb playlists – the more smart playlists you
      have, the slower iTunes runs. Just select all the tracks, then File > New Playlist
      from Selection.

      The point of "works" though is that you don’t need playlists, and you should be
      able to browse by, say, composer then work.

  6. Aren’t smart playlists a reasonable work around? I usually create a smart playlist for each classical CD I import or for iTunes downloads usings whatever unique field makes sense. For example, there are three discs for the Herreweghe St. Matthew passion, with the following data imported in the Album field, respectively: Bach, JS – Passion selon St Mathieu – BWV 244 – P. Herreweghe; Bach: Matthaus-Passion, BWV 244 (Herreweghe) [Disc 2]; Matthäus-Passion BWV 244.

    I have created smart playlists for each of these three CDs (cut and paste Album = ___) and relabeled them something much shorter “(Bach: Matthaus-Passion 1, etc.), but I can scroll through the contents of the playlists to select a movement and have the name of the movement displayed while I’m playng them.

    Granted it’s an extra step, and somewhat time consuming, but it does preserve movement level detail.

    • First, that’s a lot of playlists… I’ve got 100 GB of classical music in my iTunes
      library, so that’d be really hard to set up.

      Second, I’d recommend using dumb playlists – the more smart playlists you
      have, the slower iTunes runs. Just select all the tracks, then File > New Playlist
      from Selection.

      The point of "works" though is that you don’t need playlists, and you should be
      able to browse by, say, composer then work.

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