Rachel Heard, Millsaps music faculty member since 2002 and assistant professor of piano since 2006, recently signed a contract for her second and third solo recording projects on NAXOS International, the largest classical music label in the world. Her first recording, released by Naxos in 2006, included three sonatas and the famous F minor Variations by Franz Joseph Haydn.
With these new recordings, Dr. Heard turns her performance scholarship to the mentor of (and some say the greatest influence on) her favorite composer, Mozart. Her new releases on Naxos will feature twelve fortepiano Sonatas Op. 5 & Op. 17 of Johann Christian Bach (son of the famous J. S. Bach), who was for a time Mozart's teacher. Her recordings will be the first recordings of these sonatas in the Naxos catalogue to feature the fortepiano, the instrument for which they were actually written.
Fortepiano is the name commonly used for the early piano found in Vienna during the late eighteenth century. Dr. Heard's instrument, the only one of its kind in Mississippi or around the region, is an exact replica of a Viennese piano built by Johann Schantz around 1795. Hers was built by Thomas and Barbara Wolf, former curators of instruments at the Smithsonian Institution. The Washington Post ran a feature article on the Wolfs on March 12, 2011.
Once published, Dr. Heard's J.C. Bach recordings will be instantly available as a digital download on the NAXOS Online Music Library. They will also be available for sale (both individual tracks and albums) on iTunes. The first installment of J.C. Bach sonatas will be issued in a few months. She will record the second installment in Iowa City, Iowa in October.
Dr. Heard has signed with Naxos at a time when, according to its founder Klaus Heymann, Naxos is being literally "inundated with sample tapes and requests for contracts." Naxos International is the fastest-growing classical label in the world, thanks to its adoption of digital downloading to supplement compact disc recordings, which it put in place far ahead of other major labels, who only recently have come to it. BBC Music Magazine called Naxos' "landslide success" "the most significant record industry development of the nineties." Although Naxos still produces "hard" copy CDs, the nature of the music industry has changed dramatically in the past few years, moving increasingly toward digital downloads such as those available through iTunes.
Millsaps College, along with more than a thousand other colleges and universities around the world, subscribes to the Naxos Online Music Library. One of the advantages of the NML is that multiple users can listen to the same track, avoiding the wait for a library copy of a recording. Students and professors can create playlists and have access to the Library both on and off campus, and its other extensive educational resources include work analyses, composer biographies, glossaries of musical terms, and liner notes.