Classical Archives was created in 1994 by Pierre R. Schwob while he was living in Hong Kong. The World Wide Web was at the beginning of its exponential growth and he published a small web page—The Archives of Classical MIDI Sequences—to share about 40 MIDI classical music files he had sequenced. At the bottom of the page, Schwob invited visitors to send him their own sequences. He emailed several potential contributors and explained that he wanted to provide a central location on the web where classical music MIDI files would be available and clearly cataloged to permit others to locate them easily. Rather quickly, the site attracted such important collections as the complete Scarlatti Sonatas by John Sankey and other wonderful sequences by Finley, Hisamori, Moclin, Yokochan and others.
Soon after inception, the site moved under the URL www.prs.net – usually as a virtual server, hosted by friends who believed in the merit of such an endeavor and who agreed to provide space on their servers. Schwob maintained the site as a hobby, spending one to two hours each day to catalog the submissions and to answer what became a steady stream of correspondence from all over the world. The site became an important stop for classical music lovers on the net, and its value was underlined by the requests (usually granted) to mirror the whole site by several universities and organizations on different continents.
In 1997, right after the reversion of Hong Kong to China, Schwob moved back to the U.S. and settled in Palo Alto CA, where he continued to develop the Archives. Then in 1999, he received an offer to sell the site to an outstanding group that had an intense interest in music and culture. But as the potential buyers and Schwob discovered that they were temperamentally well suited for each other, and as Schwob was not all that keen to completely let go of the site, it was agreed that the Classical Archives would be organized (Classical Archives, LLC) with Schwob as CEO, and the group would provide an infusion of capital to permit the Archives to expand its offering.
Although the Archives continued offering most of its contents to visitors at no charge, it began seeking the support of its users so that the site could both grow and maintain its position as the premier web site for music and culture lovers. A subscription system was launched which allowed those users who wished to subscribe to do so by contributing $25/year for an Individual Subscription.
Shortly thereafter, Maestro David Barg joined the Archives as Artistic Director. David is an internationally noted conductor with a deep commitment to music education and to working with young musicians and conductors. With David's help, the Archives launched its Featured Artists section, which offered live recordings in MP3 by outstanding orchestras, soloists and vocalists. David also created the Learning Center where he shared tips with other conductors and with music students.
Many new features were soon added, notably the Classical Archives' radio station, a search engine allowing searches both by keywords and by composers; and timelines and historical displays that provided a historical context for composers and their music. The Archives was most proud of the continued addition of outstanding artists to its roster, largely due to the wonderful efforts of Dr. Leila Yangurazova, our ambassador in Moscow. When David, due to the pressures of his conducting schedule, had to move back to New York, we had the extraordinary good fortune to be joined by Dr. Nolan Gasser—now our Artistic Director—who is an outstanding musicologist (Stanford Ph.D.), composer, arranger, and performer with an unbounded enthusiasm for our mission.
In January 2009, after an intense period of development, we launched the new Classical Archives with a much more aggressive mission: to include, in addition to our legacy content, the complete catalogs of the classical music record labels, in a new and completely redesigned website which we believe offers a quantum leap in music site design and navigation.
Classical Archives uses a proprietary system (the Contextual Metadata Engine [CM-e]) that allows for the ingestion and cataloging of all recordings based on a musicologically accurate and uniform, canonical, metadata database. Because of the CM-e, visitors can search and cross-reference by various relevant criteria: composer, work title, artist, albums, historical period, instrument, and genre, in order to find and compare different recordings. At the core of our efforts is the work of a small army of dedicated musicologists who, under Nolan's direction, continue working tirelessly to catalog and properly classify the music we are adding to the new site so that it can be presented in a complete and sophisticated, yet intuitive manner.
As we included music from record companies in our offering, we had to modify our subscription plan. We offer a monthly plan for $7.99/month and an annual plan for $79.90/year. We believe that we offer a compelling experience that is still at the low end of the current music services price spectrum. In addition, we offer 10% discounts on all music purchased for download by subscribers to our new service. Finally, and in keeping with our origins, we shall continue to offer free access to all our members to the many thousands MIDI files that are given to the Archives by our wonderful and committed contributors.
A great debt of gratitude is owed to our Chief Engineer Vladimir Volovich, Unix and Perl guru extraordinaire, who, after many years and countless hours of providing invaluable support to the Archives, was finally convinced to join our team on a full time basis. Finally we must mention the tireless efforts of our administrative support team in La Jolla and San Diego. All these people are a joy to work with and their dedication and inspiration make the Archives an invaluable asset on the internet for all.
We look forward to the continuing development of the Archives to fully realizing the mission inherent in our motto, The Ultimate Classical Music Destination™. All this is made possible by the happy marriage of technology and a great reverence for our cultural treasures.