When I was a boy, my father liked two types of music: Neil Diamond and classical. Unsurprisingly, as an adult I’ve come to love both.

Classical music can be expensive, though, especially if you don’t know what you like. During the 1990s, I spent a small fortune acquiring a library of Beethoven, Bach, and Brahms. The latest issue of Newsweek notes that the classical music industry is at the forefront of online distribution. This is convenient, but doesn’t help with the cost.

Fortunately, there’s Classic Cat, the free classical music site. Classic Cat is a web-based catalog pointing to thousands of free downloadable classical music mp3s. If you’ve ever wanted to explore orchestral music, this is a great way to do it on the cheap. Here’s how the site describes itself:

Classic Cat is a directory with links to over 2800 free-to-download classical performances on the internet, sorted by composer and work.

The links on Classic Cat are checked regularly so there should be few dead links. Some websites that we link to are occasionally overcrowded or down. In those cases we advise you to bookmark the page and come back on another day. For some websites you need to register. This is free and is asked when you start your first download there. Please note that these websites are not part of Classic Cat.

Classic Cat wants to be a legal alternative to filesharing services. To achieve that we select only music that adheres to certain standards: a minimum sound quality of 128 kbps, complete movements (or fragments of at least 3 minutes) and acceptable playing and recording.

Classic Cat features a list of the site’s 100 most popular works, as well as an overview of all available mp3s. You can also browse for mp3s by performer, by composer, or by genre.

These aren’t the sorts of high-quality performances you get from a professional compact disc, but there’s some fine music here. For example, I quite liked the version of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade by The Peabody Institute (Sinbad, Kalendar Prince, Prince & Princess, Baghdad).

Used in conjunction with a site like BBC Radio 3, you could use Classic Cat to explore the world of classical music on your own terms.

Now if only there were a similar service for the music of Neil Diamond…

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