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Manage classical music in iTunes 12

Kirk McElhearn | Aug. 5, 2015
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.

Apple's approach is different. They don't put the composer's name in the track name, and, in general, their metadata is much cleaner and more correct. However, you only get Apple's metadata when you buy tracks from the iTunes Store, or add them to your Apple Music library.

Having consistent tags makes it easier to find your music. Therefore, you should choose a tagging system, and stick with it.


To start with, you'll want to fill in the Composer field for all your classical music. To do this, select one or more tracks and press Command-I. Type the composer's name in the Composer field, and then click OK.

Be consistent. You could list a composer's name as, say, Johann Sebastian Bach, J. S. Bach, Bach, Johann S., or Bach, J. S. Unless you want multiple entries for composers in iTunes and on your iOS devices, choose one format. Personally, I find that LastName, FirstName works best for me; I can more easily spot composers at a glance when I'm looking at a list. And I'm more likely to think of looking for, say, Bruckner than Anton.


The same is true for artists. If you've got a recording with a single artist, such as Alfred Brendel, this is easy. You can choose to list him as such, or as Brendel, Alfred. However, it can get a bit complicated when you have a recording of a symphony orchestra. For example, the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, could appear as any of the following:

  • Leonard Bernstein and New York Philharmonic
  • New York Philharmonic and Leonard Bernstein
  • Leonard Bernstein, New York Philharmonic [and other performers]
  • NY Philharmonic and Leonard Bernstein

Or even a soloist, such as Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, could be listed with his name only--ignoring the names of the pianists who accompany him--or with the accompanists' names. In the former case, it'll be easier to find all of Fischer-Dieskau's recordings, but in the latter, you'll have more detailed information.


Both Gracenote and the iTunes Store use one monolithic genre for classical music: Classical. You may find that sufficient, or you may, as I do, want to have more granular genres. You can add any custom genres you want to iTunes. Just select one or more tracks, press Command-I, and type some text in the Genre field. Once you've applied the genre, it will display in iTunes, or an iOS devices you sync your music to.

There are several ways you can set up custom genres for classical music. Some people use genres such as Chamber Music, Keyboard, Opera, etc. But you could also use compound genres with names like:

  • Classical: Orchestral
  • Classical: Lieder
  • Classical: Vocal

In that way, all your classical genres stay together in lists, and having the word "Classical" in them means that you can more easily set up smart playlists in iTunes that include or exclude any of these genres. (A smart playlist could use the condition Genre contains Classical.)


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