The classical music world is gradually catching on to the potential for apps to attract more fans. Many of the titles available today (like the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s new RCO Editions) will spark the interest of diehard fans, but it’s possible that the same apps will entice a new generation of digital-savvy listeners – provided their design lives up to the sophistication of the market standard. And as well as offering a haven for music fans, there’s also a host of apps dedicated to making musicians’ lives that bit easier, plus educational titles aimed at children. We test out some of the best classical music apps to hit the market this year.
Best for listeners: The Liszt Sonata
Touch Press; £9.99/€13.99
One of Touch Press’ most popular apps to date, The Liszt Sonata lets users to really get under the skin of Piano Sonata in B Minor. Whilst Stephen Hough’s performance is played, the app allows for easy switching between a variety of angles, and offers a colourful graphic notation (in the style of Guitar Hero) which unfolds as the piece is played. There’s also optional commentary from Hough in text-only or audio and text form, so users can experience the piece from the pianist’s perspective. Charlotte Gardner’s accompanying text comes with a few pop-out annotations, but there could be more of these to break up the slightly overwhelming density of the text. Despite this, all the features culminate in an extensively detailed profile of Liszt’s masterpiece.
Why it’s worth it: A simple-to-use app that reveals great musical complexity.
Any improvements? The rather heavy text section could be made more readable and interactive.
Best for musicians: Tonara
Tonara Ltd; free
From the company that revolutionised digital sheet music comes a new update to the app for musicians of all genres. Built to interact with hundreds of free-to-download scores from the Tonara Free Zone (which has a visible link on the app), the recording system listens to the music being played, can show the location of the notes being played on the score, and can even automatically turn sheet pages. The impressive scribble pad function allows you to create layers of colour-coded notes on the score, and saved recordings can be saved and shared via email.
Why it’s worth it: Makes rehearsals a breeze. Plus, it’s free!
Any improvements? The sharing function could be extended beyond email to include Facebook and other social media platforms.
Best for kids: Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra by Benjamin Britten
AVCO Productions; free
To celebrate Britten’s legacy, this attractively designed app features a complete recording of the composer’s guide of the same name, conducted by Sir Mark Elder. There are plenty of additional features to keep young minds entertained, including a host of specially designed games and quizzes like the charming ‘Fugue Game’, where users can layer different instruments to create their own piece. There’s also a scrapbook on Britten’s life, and short interviews with orchestra members.
Why it’s worth it: Provides the perfect introduction to the orchestra.
Any improvements? A few teething problems meant the app experienced a couple of shut downs during use.
Best for Beethoven: Beethoven’s 9th Symphony
Touch Press & Deutsche Grammophon; £9.99 for iPad, £5.49 for iPhone/iPod Touch
Packing in four recordings of Beethoven’s classic symphony from Leonard Bernstein, John Eliot Gardiner, Ferenc Fricsay and Herbert von Karajan, users can switch instantly between recordings to explore variations in interpretation. It’s also easy to switch between scores synchronised with the music (including the original 1825 version). As well as commentary which runs alongside the recordings, there are video insights from experts including Gustavo Dudamel and Suzy Klein, broken down into easily digestible topics. It’s a pity this usability didn’t extend to the text section though, which appeared overly dense and would be difficult to read on small screen.
Why it’s worth it? Good variety of content and great level of usability.
Any improvements? A version for Android wouldn’t go amiss.