Thursday, 7:53pm
4 November 2010

Symphonic scrawl

777 classical music album covers from the collection of Dr Horst Scherg

A copy of Classique: Cover Art for Classical Music arrived in the Eye office too late to be mentioned in our recent music design special (Eye 76), writes John L. Walters.

First published a couple of years ago, Classique is packed with album covers – 777 of them – from the personal archive of German collector Dr Horst Scherg, who has been collecting classical vinyl since 1966, and has the catalogue numbers to prove it. Compared to the attention given to pop, rock and jazz covers, there’s little printed literature about classical music design, so this book is as welcome as any drink in a drought.

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Chronologically, Scherg’s story begins in the 1940s with some work by Alex Steinweiss (above, see also Steven Heller’s ‘Reputations’ piece in Eye 76), and winds down, like the classical industry itself, early this century. Most sleeves feature original illustration – good, bad and ugly.

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The Doctor arranges his images by design and theme, from ‘The Nostalgic Charm of the Fifties’ through ‘Designing with Photos’ (below) to ‘Cover Design with Abstract Art’ (above): categories that cut unapologetically across musical genres. Well reproduced covers are crammed into spreads with minimal captions.

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‘The Painting Museum in the Record Cabinet’ shows how art directors tend to pair certain kinds of art with classical music: Constable for Ralph Vaughan Williams, Seurat for Debussy, Klimt for Schoenberg, and so on. Another chapter considers ‘The Best Covers from the Czech Republic’ (below).

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One chapter concentrates on printing techniques (engraving, woodcuts, etc.) and there is a section at the end dedicated to the unsung art of centre labels, though some may find 24 pages too much of a good thing.

There are many more stories to be told about the lettering and type used on these records, and the heroic individuals, some un-credited, who did work in-house at different labels, but this is not that sort of book.

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Above and below: spreads from the ‘Composers’ chapter.

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There is plenty more to say about the evolution of the classical music industry (see ‘Classical crossroads’, Eye 76). There are the technological changes in dissemination. And the means (design or otherwise) by which record companies reach, serve and create audiences for classical music, given the inadequacies of iTunes, and the largely pop-oriented services for online music.

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Dr Scherg’s book is an elegy for another era, in which he simply collected what appealed to him at the time. If you view Classique as the coffee table equivalent of flipping through the racks or crates of a well stocked second-hand classical LP store, there is plenty to enjoy in its crowded pages.

Classique: Cover Art for Classical Music, edited by Horst Sherg / Robert Klanten, designed by Floyd Schulze for Gestalten (DGV, £35, €39.90, $60)

For more on classical music design, read Adrian Shaughnessy’s ‘Reinterpreting the classics in Eye 21.
Also Jeremy Hall’s ‘Envisaging soundscapes’ in Eye 39.
And our panel discussion with Philip Sheppard, Mike Dempsey and Peter Quantrill in Eye 76 (below).

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Eye magazine is available from all good design bookshops and at the online Eye shop, where you can order subscriptions, single issues and back issues. Last summer’s issue, 76, was a music special (full contents here). The Autumn issue, Eye 77, is out right now – see Eye Before You Buy on Issuu for a taste of its contents.

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