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Monday, July 6, 2020

Get your free 'black opium in a lush and expensive brothel'

Johann Christian Bach, the 'English Bach'

One of the amazing aspects of modern times for an old guy like me is the wealth of free music that can be streamed into your home by anyone with a library card. I take advantage of that quite often, usually but not always to listen to classical music.

Robert Anton Wilson's description of the music of Johann Christian Bach in a recent chapter for the Nature's God reading group as  "black opium in a lush and expensive brothel" (Chapter 7) reminded me that I've meant to explore J.C. Bach's music; surely Wilson meant to strongly recommend him with such a vivid description. I'll use him as an example of how to use the free library services. (I find it comforting to know that if I lost everything, all of my music collection vanished, and I had no money, I could still listen to tons of music.)

The two main digital library music services are Freegal and Hoopla Digital. There is little overlap between them, as they have deals with different record companies. Both have tons of classical music representing all of the major composers (and many minor ones.)

Each service has strengths and weaknesses. Freegal has unlimited streaming and also lets users download and keep five MP3 files a week. It also makes it easy to combine music into playlists. (I quickly put together a four-hour J.C. Bach playlist.) Hoopla operates strictly by letting users check out an album for a week. There's no opportunity to put together playlists, but Hoopla has a very large selection of music, much bigger than Freegal.

It's best to have a library card that offers both services, or to have more than one library card, so you can take advantage of both. It's easy to do this in Ohio, which provides a bigger state subsidy for local libraries than any state and therefore requires each library to accept applications for a library card (for a library, or a library network) from anyone in Ohio.  Other states are apparently not so generous, but see this article on "Libraries with Non-resident Borrowing Privileges!" which explains how you may be able to obtain an additional library card in your own state, or failing that, purchase a library card.  I looked at some of the latter libraries, and the Houston Public Library, in Texas, seems to offer a nice balance of cost and lots of digital goodies.

I spent a lot of time recently listening to Johann Christian Bach on both library services, and indeed, as you might expect from "black opium in a brothel," his music is beautiful and sensuous. The recommendations below are for the library services, but they should also work for Spotify, etc. 

His music can be easily found on Freegal by searching for "Johann Christian Bach" and "J.C. Bach." On Freegal, try the Johann Christian Bach - Quintet in D Major, Op. 22 No.1 recording by Collegium Musicum Fluminense or the J.C. Bach: Sinfoniae Concertante Collegium Aureum album. 

Hoopla's cataloging and annotation of classical music is not exactly a strength, and but the service's treatment of J.C. Bach is particularly slovenly; a search on Hoopla for "J.C. Bach" or "Johann Christian Bach" turns up nothing. I could not accept that Hoopla, with is large stores music, actually did not have any English Bach, so I searched for "Bach" and scrolled through hundreds of albums and bookmarked a number of relevant ones.

I can at least make your search easier. Search for "The English Concert" to find J. Chr. Bach: Quintet Op.22 No.1; Quintet Op.11 Nos. 1 & 6; Sextet Without Op. No.  and search for "Netherlands Chamber Orchestra" for J. Chr. Bach: Sinfonien. 

If classical music is not  your jam, I should mention that Hoopla is particularly good at offering classic rock. No Beatles yet (although lots of solo Beatles albums), but lots of Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Neil Young, etc. 

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