If you Love Classical Music, Keep Your CD Player on Hand

The compact disc is still a viable archival medium, especially for classical music.

I just read a Japanese best-seller about cleaning. The basic premise is that if you reduce your belongings to a perfect minimum of only those things you feel deeply about, then designate each a special place in your home, you will live the rest of your days in serene tidiness and order.

One short wall of my apartment is devoted to shelves of CDs. The number is certainly not a perfect minimum. And while super tidy, their order is idiosyncratic, even chaotic. To be honest, in a world of super streaming services, my archaic physical recordings are completely redundant. Shouldn’t I find some Zen balance and chuck them all out?

Happily, Richard Winter, owner of Gramola, the Austrian classical CD label and distribution company, dissuades me. “There are many people, especially in the classical music sphere, who want some physical evidence in their living room of their cultural interests, be it books or CDs,” he says. “The point isn’t to prove those interests to others; it usually has more to do with the relationship between the owner of a recording and the recording itself.”

That’s it! I love my CDs (and the music on them); many have been definitive for my identity. His Master’s Voice may now be in the Cloud, but “freemium” Spotify jumbles up my Mahler symphonies and offers me “songs” I don’t want or need.

Gramola was founded in Vienna in 1924 as a distributor for the British-Czech record label of the same name. Within a decade the label was bankrupt, but the retailer remained. Today it is the oldest shop selling recorded music in the city, still a family business in the fourth generation.

“When I was young and started selling records,” Winter reminisces, “there were 480 record shops in Austria, one around every corner.” Today there are just a few specialist stores: a handful in the 1st district (focusing on classical), another handful clustered near Mariahilfer Strasse (mostly jazz and pop). And even these are endangered: Since the high point in 2000, when 2.4 billion CDs were sold worldwide, sales of physical recordings have fallen by more than 75 percent, while availability online – whether legal or not – has grown exponentially.


Richard Winter is the fourth generation owner of Gramola, founded in 1924. // © Privatarchiv Richard Winter

For classical music, however, the figures are different, according to Winter, especially in Central Europe and Japan. The Austrian branch of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry reported that CDs still commanded 56 percent of the market in Austria in 2016. This may be due to the nature of classical music – centuries of compositions being constantly reinterpreted by new artists. “There isn’t one absolutely best interpretation of every great work,” as Dieter Oehms of the label Oehms Classics explains. “That’s what makes classical music so fascinating. Every generation of musicians experiments finds new viewpoints, emphasizes different things.”

Classical artists still record, despite little compensation – if any at all. Often a patron must be found to fund production costs. Long gone are the days when a record label paid everything or classical musicians could earn part of their living through royalties. Nonetheless, a discography is still part of a successful career.

And so Gramola also focuses on CD production. With currently up to 70 new releases annually, predominantly of Austrian artists (or artists living here), it is the biggest classical music label in the country. A successful run sells 2,000 copies. There must be some idealism behind this, but Winter is a trained businessman, and an optimistic one.

What a pleasure to enter his shop, with its lovely Jugendstil interior, and find six recordings of Brahms’ string sextets! Or meet a clerk who, as Winter tells me, was offered a professorship at the Music University but decided selling CDs was more interesting.

Shall I break down and subscribe to Spotify? Not yet. There are too many must-have CDs! Such as Gramola’s latest release Out of Sight, pre-WWII Viennese Jewish chansons with the sparkly and charming Ethel Merhaut. Or their box set of the legendary nonagenarian Paul Badura-Skoda’s recordings of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas. I may be old-fashioned, nostalgic, a nerd or even mad, but CDs are still part of my world.

Gramola, 1., Graben 16. Mon-Wed 9:30-18:30, Thu-Fri 9:30-19:00, Sat 9:30-18:00. gramola.at

Cynthia Peck
Cynthia Peck is originally from Southern California, but she does not miss the sun. She lived in Tokyo for a decade, and she does miss the food. Now the Konzerthaus and Musikverein are her main living rooms, as are a few select restaurants around town. Trained in Vienna as a professional cellist, she also works at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, translates and edits lots of books about Buddhist epistemology and Austrian history, and is thinking about apprenticing as a chef. What she enjoys most is writing about music.


You like local independent journalism in English? So do we!

To keep providing you with current news, insights, opinion and Schmäh about our shared hometown, we need your help.
We chose to provide our daily coverage for free, because we believe in equal access to information. And we want to be independent from our advertisers, so we can deliver the news that you want. With your help, we can keep giving you the open, independent journalism you deserve.

Don’t let the advertisers win!


If you’re able, please support Metropole today from as little as €1
or choose an amount:

RECENT Articles

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Empress Elisabeth “Sissi” of Austria

Better known by her nickname “Sissi,” she has captured the hearts of the public ever since she was immortalized by actress Romy Schneider in a trilogy of 1950s romantic comedies.

Donald Tusk’s Clear Voice

Welcoming to Scotland, the perennial European is not about to leave the political stage.

“Mein Fall” | Austrian Writer Tells of Sexual Abuse

As a choirboy at the Zwettl Monastery in the 1960s, novelist Josef Haslinger was regularly assaulted by his superiors. Now he wrote about it.

Passing the Baton

The Vienna Theatre Project meditates on MLK’s last night on earth in Katori Hall’s “The Mountaintop.”

5 Anti-Valentine’s Day Movies | It’s Difficult to Love

If the most saccharine of holidays is starting to get to you, here are five sobering – some would say more realistic – portrayals of human emotion.

Keeping It Together

Ken Loach takes on the human cost of the gig economy in his latest film, "Sorry We Missed You".

Doskozil’s Big Win For the SPÖ in Burgenland

After a disappointing year, the Social Democrats won a whopping 50% of the vote in last week’s state elections.

2019 Was a Record-Breaking Year in Vienna Tourism

Visitors are pleased with Vienna as a travel destination, with 9 out of 10 stating they would recommend it to others.