iTunes has always been designed for "songs," and, for the most part, classical music isn't a song-based genre. Because of this, organizing classical music in iTunes can be a bit complicated. But with a few workarounds, it's possible to maintain a large classical music library in iTunes. Here's how.
To start with, if you still buy CDs--as many classical music fans do--you need to rip them. When ripping CDs, iTunes uses settings in its General preferences. You can rip in MP3, AAC, Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV. You've probably already decided on which format and bit rate to use, but, if not, here's a quick primer.
MP3 and AAC files are both compressed, though AAC--part of the MP4 standard--generally sounds better at the same bit rate than MP3. However, many classical music listeners prefer using lossless formats. iTunes doesn't support FLAC (a format that you'll find on websites selling music for download) but uses Apple Lossless, which is similar. I don't suggest using AIFF or WAV. Both of these formats are uncompressed, and take up a lot more space than Apple Lossless. They sound exactly the same as Apple Lossless--WAV, in particular, leads to problems with tags.
Ten years ago, when I wrote an article about ripping classical CDs, iTunes didn't yet play music without gaps between tracks. This is an issue for many types of music, especially operas. At the time, I recommended ripping entire CDs in single files, but there's little reason to do that now. However, if you want to join tracks, you can. Insert a CD in your drive, select the CD in iTunes. Select the tracks you want to join, and then click Options > Join CD Tracks. iTunes rips the selected tracks as a single file; this could be two tracks or an entire CD.
Tagging classical music
The real problem with managing a library of classical music involves normalizing its tags: its metadata, or information about your files. It includes the track name, artist, album, composer, genre, and more. There are many ways you can tag classical music, and, unfortunately, there's no consensus on the best way to do so.
Gracenote, who runs the database iTunes uses to look up the tracks on your CDs, displays classical tracks with the essential information in the Name, Artist, Composer, and Album tags.
Gracenote's metadata, for many classical CDs, includes the composer's name at the beginning of each track.
As you can see, each track is prefaced with the composer's name, as is the album. The artist is the performer(s), and the composer's name is also in the Composer field. This structure is designed so listeners can see the name of the composer together with the track name, especially on devices like car stereos. Not all CD lookups return tags formatted like this, however; it depends on how recent and how common your CD is.
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