As a classical music listener with a large iTunes library, I have long lamented the way iTunes manages this type of music. iTunes considers every track to be a “song,” and as classical music fans know, this isn’t always the case. Sure, some classical music can be classified as songs: opera arias, lieder, and art songs. But the majority of this genre’s music doesn’t fit that name.
In addition, while you might want to listen to your Miles Davis or Bob Dylan collection in shuffle mode, you almost certainly don’t want to listen to, say, the different movements of Mozart’s piano concertos in random order.
Apple has added some new tags to iTunes 12.5 in order to help users organize classical music. They are the Work (work name), Movement (movement number), and Name (movement name) tags. If you select one or more tracks in iTunes, then press Command-I, you can check Use Work and Movement to make these tags visible.
When you check this option, you see that the Name tag—the one for the track name—goes away, and is replaced by these three new tags you can use for classical works. This is a big advance, but not without problems.
An example: my favorite recording of Charles Ives’s Concord Sonata, or, to use its full name, Piano Sonata No. 2, Concord, Mass., 1840–60. Here’s how the files look now in my iTunes library:
To label this work with the new tags, I’ve selected the tracks, checked the appropriate option, and entered the work name.
When I click OK, iTunes changes the display of this work (here in list view):
iTunes only displays the work name for each track, and you need to enter movement names. The problem now is that if you select a track and press Command-I, you won’t see the movement name any more. You either need to remember them, check on a CD, or click the Work Name popup and switch to Song to see the track’s name; you can copy it from there, switch back, and paste it in the Name tag.
This is a cumbersome process, and I think iTunes should automatically add the (Song) Name tag to the (Movement) Name tag instead of leaving it blank. (Note that if you’re ripping a CD, you can change most tags before starting the rip. But you can only apply the Work tag; you need to enter the Movement and Name tags after you’ve ripped the files.)
Type or paste the movement names into the appropriate tags, and click OK. iTunes now displays the work as follows:
As you can see above, iTunes now displays an aggregate name, made up of the work name, a colon, a Roman numeral for the movement number (if you’ve entered it), and, finally, the movement name. In Songs view, the display isn’t very different from before, but if you switch to Albums view, and expand an album, you see the works and their movements:
Here’s how this work displays on iOS:
This display is similar to the way the iTunes Store displays some classical music, using the Grouping tag. However, I only see this display when I sync music to an iOS device; adding these tracks to iCloud Music Library only displays the Name tags without the works and movements as above. So there’s clearly a breakdown once these tracks get matched and/or uploaded to the cloud.
Some purchased tracks, and some Apple Music tracks, also show these Work tags. I suspect that only albums that used the Grouping tag previously on the iTunes Store benefit from this change; otherwise, Apple would need to manually edit tags for potentially millions of tracks.
While you can set these new tags, they’re not particularly useful when managing or listening to classical music; all they do is display names more consistently. You can’t select a work by clicking its name, for example, to quickly add it to a playlist or Up Next as you would an album.
This tagging can be complex, and Doug Adams has created a trio of AppleScripts that you can download called Work and Movement Scripts. You can use these to copy a Name tag to the Work tag; copy a (Song) Name tag to the (Movement) Name tag; and copy the Grouping tag, if you have filled this in, to the Work tag.
Apple has made big strides here, catering to the niche market that is classical music, with these new tags. I just wish they were a bit easier to use and better thought out.