iTunes 11 and Classical Music

With the arrival of iTunes 11, classical music fans – and anyone with a large music library – have lamented the removal of certain features and views that help organize large amounts of music. I touched on some of these in my extensive review of iTunes 11 for Macworld, and in my discussion of iTunes 11 on the Macworld podcast. But I would like to summarize here the problems that iTunes 11 has brought specifically to classical music listeners.

First, there is no Composers view. In the iTunes window, you can view your music by Songs, Albums, Artists Genres and Playlists, but Composers has been forgotten.

Next, the Column Browser has been removed. This was a very practical way of viewing your library by drilling down from, say, Genre to Composer to Album. Previously, the Column Browser was available either on the top of a window or on the left side, allowing for two different ways of viewing music. It’s still available, but only in one view: Songs. The Songs view is sterile and hard to use, because there is no artwork displayed, and because there is no visible separation between albums.

Album List view was also removed. This allowed users to display a list of their music with album art, and the artwork delimited each album, making it easy to spot an album at a glance. Also, this list view would display whichever columns a user wanted to see, and users could sort by any column, such as Date Added, Composer, Artist, Album, etc. The new Albums view only shows track names, ratings and times, and sort options are limited.

In the iTunes Store, there is no longer a Composer column when you view an album. So if you see a recording with several works of the same name, but by different composers, there’s no way of knowing which is which, if you want to buy one or several tracks of work by a specific composer.

And in the iTunes Store, the Power Search feature was removed. You could use this to search for items by multiple criteria, including composer. If you were looking for an album with a work by a specific composer, played by a specific artist, this was a practical way to find it.

iTunes is clearly targeted at those listeners who consume songs, not those who collect classical music, or who have large libraries. But what chagrins me is that it would have been simple to keep the above features; they don’t specifically clash with the overall interface. Their removal makes iTunes much harder to use with classical music, and with large libraries. I can only hope that Apple makes some changes so those users who need these features can feel comfortable with the program.

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34 replies
  1. Juan Ignacio Gil says:

    There is, however, one small advantage of the new version for classical music: the “randomize by album” feature (though I’m not sure if it’s new, or if it existed before and I hadn’t discovered it until now)

    • Chucky says:

      I’ve long wanted a ‘randomize by album’ feature, and always been mystified why it didn’t exist.

      That one feature alone is not nearly enough to make me have the slightest degree of desire to upgrade to iTunes 11, given the immense multitude of good things iTunes 11 takes away, but it is a nice addition anyway.

      I’m planning on sticking with iTunes 10 for years. When new iOS devices start requiring iTunes 11, I’ll run it on a secondary machine just for syncing, or in a virtual machine. You can pry iTunes 10 out of my cold, dead hands…

  2. Laurent says:

    The column browser is still available in the playlists view (when the sidebar is hidden – thanks to Lee for this tip!).

    The two things I miss most for classical music:
    - the Album List view (introduced in iTunes 10).
    - the randomize by grouping feature (discarded a long time ago).

    • kirk says:

      The column browser displays for playlists, but only when you choose List from the View Options button. So it’s essentially the same as Songs view.

    • Ernst Mulder says:


      You write you’re missing:
      - the randomize by grouping feature (discarded a long time ago).

      I shuffle by grouping all the time. Only proper way to shuffle classical music. It’s under Control -> Shuffle -> By Groupings

  3. Mark says:

    So iTunes 11 is a major problem for the reasons you’ve sited here and others. So what do we do?
    Do we swap what we put in the Artis and Composer fields (as has been suggested by a few folks that have written about how they optimized iTunes for Classical music). There’s some excellent scrips that will help (Doug’s iTunes scripts).
    Do we find something better – are there viable alternatives??
    Has Apple opened a big enough gap for a business model targeting the classical world to emerge? (ie is there hope for the future).

    • kirk says:

      It’s a tough call. My recommendation would be to not upgrade if the above is a problem for you. Frankly, if I didn’t write about iTunes, I’d probably stick with iTunes 10.

      As for third-party software, pretty much everything available for Mac (I don’t follow Windows software) is mediocre. But if someone could come up with something good runs on a Mac, it might have a chance, even if the number of classical music fans is limited.

      • Chucky says:

        “Frankly, if I didn’t write about iTunes, I’d probably stick with iTunes 10.”


        I understand that your day job requires you to use iTunes 11. But absent that rare motivation, sticking with iTunes 10 is a no-brainer for serious iTunes users, whether they have a classical music focus or not. It’s simply an inferior software experience for serious users.

        Apple will make it harder and harder to stick with iTunes 10 as years pass by, with OS X and iOS upgrades gradually forcing more and more users to iTunes 11. But in the meantime, if it ain’t broke, don’t install software will a multitude of horrendous UX regressions.

        (But, hell, I think pretty much all of the OS X development out of Cupertino post-Snow Leopard is replete with horrendous UX regressions…)

        • Mark says:

          That’s my current plan. I installed iTunes 11 on a MBP to play with, but kept my primary Mac running 10. And I plan to stay that way. The problem, as others have noted, is that we will eventually get squeezed out. We won’t be able to run OS X 10.6.8 and iTunes 10 forever. So at some point we’re going to need a plan.

          • Chucky says:

            “The problem, as others have noted, is that we will eventually get squeezed out. We won’t be able to run OS X 10.6.8 and iTunes 10 forever. So at some point we’re going to need a plan.”

            Forever is a mighty long time.

            The large majority of folks will get squeezed out of Snowy and iTunes 10 in the next few years, but if you’re willing to do a bit of work, and if you’re willing to forgo the bulk of new software, you can happily stick with Snowy and iTunes 10 for quite a while.

            Used Macs that can boot Snowy can be made quite snappy and acceptable with the addition of a cheap SSD.

            Yet-to-be-released iOS devices that will require iTunes 11 can be worked around with iTunes 11 running on a spare machine or virtual machine.

            Hell, the good 3rd party software developers are still supporting Snowy. I very recently bought licenses for either upgrades or fresh installations for newly released software that supports Snowy like Arq and Little Snitch. The folks who make Scrivener are producing a totally new app from scratch with Snowy support that I’ll buy once it gets out of beta. OmniGroup is still supporting Snowy. Dropbox is still supporting Tiger. Google and Adobe will likely support Chrome and Flash on Snowy for quite a while for those in need of the total modern web with full security.

            Don’t forget that three and a half years after its release, Snowy is the OS X version with the most users, measured by those accessing the web.

            In short, if you’re a ‘pro’ user who wishes to stick with the apex of the UX on OS X that we’re likely to ever see, you won’t be able to last forever, but you’ll be able to last for quite a while.

            After that quite a while passes, the ‘plan’ is to find someone to revive BeOS ;)

            • Mark says:

              That’s likely the best approach (at least for now). I’ve been thinking of building an iTunes appliance separate from my day-day Mac. That way you don’t have to worry about other OS/application dependencies. I’ve been looking at used Mac minis to run as a headless system. I’m torn as to what level to focus on. I’d want it to be .11n on the wireless side. Having the optical drive is a nice option to rip new CDs which would limit the choice to the late 2009 version. On the other hand having two storage drives in a compact unit would be nice (and obviously the >2010 vintages would have extra performance). The challenge with that is inevidibly you would need extra external storage…
              Any suggestions on the optimum Mac mini for a dedicated iTunes music appliance?

      • Chucky says:

        “As for third-party software … if someone could come up with something good runs on a Mac, it might have a chance, even if the number of classical music fans is limited.”

        I wish I though otherwise, but I think the chances are between slim and none.

        It’d be a big undertaking to build such a thing, and the presence of the free iTunes and the necessity of iTunes sync with iOS devices would severely limit the market, even among those unhappy with iTunes 11.

        If Android phones ever end up getting good enough to grab market share among discriminating customers, and thus Apple loses its decade-long PMP monopoly, then the iTunes sync chokehold would be broken, and 3rd party jukebox developers might have a genuine shot. But even if that all happens, it’ll take a bit of time.

        • Chucky says:

          “Is there any third-party software that will play apple lossless?”

          RTFWP. The Apple Lossless file format has been open-sourced, is playable via 3rd party software, and has no impediments to new 3rd party software being able to playback.

    • Revista 13 says:

      Since I effectively cannot purchase the kind of classical music in the manner that I need to search for it from itunes,(by composer, by artist, by song or work, by genre, and by all categories, I am going to other vendors and there are quite a few, for example, even Amazon is friendlier than itunes.

      Apple is simply interested in folks who want it now, and who need someone else to suggest it to them.

      They seem to be unaffected by the loss of revenue from classical music purchasers, nor do they see the business opportunity to develop an option for diffrent kinds of purchasers. There is a void here and I hope someone will jump in and address this. I am not holding my breath that Apple is going to do that. So customer unfriendly.

  4. David says:

    I’ve always had a problem with iTunes because I have a about 40 albums of classical music mixed in with several hundred albums of rock/pop/blues/jazz/holiday/etc. There is absolutely no view that works for all the genres and having separate libraries is just plain stupid. A real database should be able to hold everything in one place and offer a variety a views that let you see what you want the way you want to see it.

    I’ve looked at some of the alternatives, but none of them let me view some music by Composer and other music by Album Artist. None of them let me assign dates to albums independently of the songs. Having multiple dates is incredibly important for compilations (where each track may come from a different year) and live recordings where I want to see when the songs were written and when the concert or concerts were held without blowing away the date the album was released. Obviously this is doubly important for classical music because the era in which the music was written is almost never the same one in which the music was performed.

    In order to group music together I’ve tried using genre to hold data such as Baroque/Classical/Romantic, but there are composers on the boundaries and composers who wrote in one era, but in the style of an earlier one so that simplistic sorting into genre breaks down pretty quickly.

    Even popular music can fall into the same holes as bands either change their sound or retain a sound across multiple eras. Some albums contain such a variety of songs that it’s impossible to place into a genre at all.

    The way I sort tribute albums is to change the Album Artist to match the group that originally recorded the songs, but this breaks when an artist covers multiple artists on the same album.

    It makes me wish I had the skill to write my own database front end.

  5. Owen Hartnett says:

    One feature I would love is to have “shuffle” be attached to a playlist, so I could have my classical music playlist unshuffled, and a popular music playlist shuffled. I shouldn’t have to turn shuffle on and off after I select a different list, it should know that a particular list defaults to shuffle or non-shuffle.

  6. JLorenzo says:

    JRiver is working on a Mac version of JRiver Media Center. Best software for Classical music. Release date is February.

  7. Reinard says:

    I think If you are over 20 you are no longer an appreciated customer of Apple… Times are changing. Who the hell is COLLECTING music? And CLASSICAL ???

  8. Denis says:

    I’m over 60 and after spending some time with the new update I like it. Classical is about half of my library (270 albums). The songs view is worse but the new Artists, Genres & Playlist views are excellent. If you set up smart playlists with your favourite composers using the rule e.g. composer-contains-beethoven. Making sure you untick the limit to 25 items box. This selects all the albums containing music by beethoven and you can then view them as an album grid which looks good. Clicking on the album opens up the tracks on it by that composer. To do this you need to hide the sidebar. It’s great try it! Appreciate if you have a much larger library with hundreds of composers in it this will not be as practical buy even so you can set up a smart playlist in seconds to find exactly what you want.

  9. asmeurer says:

    My biggest gripe is that the mini player no longer scrolls the title of the song and album. For classical music, those tend to be long. This was already the case for the music players on the iPod touch and iPhone.

  10. Alan says:

    Although these changes are disappointing to myself and readers of this blog, I cannot say they are unexpected. Apple has been getting criticism lately about how “bloated” iTunes is, and how it has gone from a way of getting music on your iPod to something that handles the responsibility that should be divided between multiple applications. Classical music fans and listeners with large libraries are becoming the minority (evidenced by Apple’s absurd reluctance to offer the iTunes Match service to anyone with a library of over 25,000 songs, even for all King Midas’s Gold), and it is understandable that Apple would favor deleting features that please these users over disappointing the majority of its user base. All we can hope for in the future is that Apple breaks off iTunes as a dedicated music jukebox and moves other functions such as video, device syncing, and possibly the stores to other applications. Maybe create the “Apple Store” where users can purchase Mac apps, iOS maps, music, movies, etc. They could bring back iSync to handle device syncing, or just delete the feature once iCloud has become ubiquitous. All I know is that I have spent way too much time working on my iTunes library to ever move to a third-party application.

  11. sandie says:

    I am devestated that the Power Seaech has been removed from vesion 11 and here is the rub, you can’t uninstall version 11 and replace it with an older one because the computer already altered it when version 11 was installed.

    I have more than 2000 pieces of classical music and now I don’t kopw how to search for music when the composer has been removed.. An suggestions????? Is there another type of ITunes out theer to replace ITunes.

  12. jtbell says:

    After seeing many negative comments about iTunes 11 here and elsewhere from classical music fans, I declined to install it on the Mac Pro that hosts my music library. Today I finally had a chance to try it on my wife’s MacBook, to see if I could live with it after all. It turns out that I can, with practically no change to my music “workflow.”

    The reason? I don’t use the Composer field. (Gasp! Shock! Horror!)

    I usually listen to my music by streaming it to an Apple TV that feeds into my A/V receiver via HDMI. Although the Apple TV interface lets you choose music by Composer via a scrolling list, it does not show the Composer in the on-screen display while the music is playing, which I consider to be unsatisfying.

    Therefore, I put the composer in the Artist field and leave the Composer field blank. I append the last name of the primary artist (usually the conductor or soloist) to the Album field. An Album is normally a single work (symphony, concerto, etc.). To group the music according to the album (CD) that they came from, I use the Genre field.


    Track name: 1. Allegretto
    Artist: Sibelius, Jean
    Album: Symphony No. 2, Op. 43 (1902) [Vänskä]
    Genre: BIS 1986 Sibelius sym 2 & 5

    Besides streaming the music, I use iTunes mainly for importing music and editing tags to conform to the scheme above. This still works just like before, now in Songs view instead of “as List” view, with the column browser set to display Genres, Artists and Albums.

    I was alarmed at first to find that the “gapless album” option is now missing from the Options pane when editing tags, but apparently this setting affects only the ability to cross-fade, which I never do anyway.

  13. joost says:

    i mostly play my music streaming from an Apple server through the Apple TV3. The ATV interface is absolutely useless for anyone who wants to find a specific piece of music (classical or pop), but i found that the free “control” app for the iPad is a really good way to browse and play the server based library. Composers list on the left, albums and content on the right…


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