On my The Hours post, Lynn S. points out I assume Philip Glass is in fact popular on an absolute basis i.e. compared to all other commerical music. To quickly find a proxy for the popularity of Philip Glass, I surveyed the Amazon sales rank for classical CDs and filtered for the top recordings with one or more American classical works (defined broadly). With the second column of the table below the overall Amazon sales rank for all music CDs, here's the aworks/Amazon top 10 sellers:
|1||84||The Most Relaxing Classical Album...Ever!||various||Adagio for Strings. Barber etc.|
|2||312||How Sweet the Sound: Spirituals & Traditional Gospel||Chanticleer||Amazing Grace etc.|
|3||320||American Angels||Anonymous 4||various|
|4||531||West Side Story||original cast, Bernstein, Sondheim|
|5||591||On the Transmigration of Souls||John Adams|
|6||768||Bernstein Century - Copland: Appalachian Spring, Rodeo, etc||Leonard Bernstein||Rodeo, Billy the Kid, Fanfare for the Common Man, Appalachian Spring. Copland|
|7||877||25 Classical Favorites||various||The Stars and Stripes Forever. Sousa etc.|
|8||939||Best of the Millennium: Top 40 Classical Hits||various||Rhapsody in Blue. Gershwin etc.|
|9||1366||Essential Guitar: 33 Guitar Masterpieces||various||Prelude. John Williams etc.|
|10||1433||Complete a Capella Works 1991-2001||BYU Singers etc.||Various by Eric Whitacre|
Unbeknownst to me, Eric Whitacre, born in 1970 and who studied at Julliard, seems to have a hit, relatively speaking. Deborah Kravetz reviews: Eric Whitacre’s Water Night (1996) brings out astringency and
mystery with bi-tones that chill, to accompany the English text by Mexican
poet Octavio Paz
Otherwise, with the exception of the topical John Adams, the list looks quite traditional.
The Hours soundtrack by Philip Glass is, overall, #2465 and The Hours piano solo CD is #7318. To further blur distintions, The Hours soundtrack is categorized as popular music but the piano music is classical (as is The Fog of War soundtrack). Ok, I'll use critic Robert Christgau's terminology and call Philip Glass "semi-popular" which of course is nebulous.
Incidentally, the top classical recording (and 74th overall) is Elvis Costello's reverse crossover Il Signo and the least-selling classical recording I could find at #467,039 overall is Schönberg: Pelleas Und Mélisande/Reger: Serenade in G Major, Op. 95. To compete at the bottom of the list, I am thinking of producing a CD The Least Relaxing Classical Music... Ever! with tracks by Antheil, Ives, Curran, Cage, et al.
Update: The October Wired Magazine has an article "The Long Tale" (still offline) describing how new media merchants like Amazon, Rhapsody, Netflix et al benefit from the expanded number of low-volume product they can sell. In some cases, companies may generate more revenue from the back catalog, obscure titles, and other niches than they do from the "hits." Since the overhead for more titles is inherently low for cyberspace "stock" versus traditional commerce, the effect is likely to continue to scale. So, maybe for the future of classical music, it may not matter that only items like the classical Elvis Costello and titles like The Most Relaxing Classical Album...Ever! are in the top 100 Amazon music CDs. It may be more important people are buying everything up to and including #467,039, that Schönberg/Reger CD.