The digital marketplace is a visual medium. People make snap judgements, scan pages crowded with products and ignore text all over the place. With everything in stock all the time, clichés get old really fast, nobody wants to make a banner ad out of an ugly sleeve, and a good album cover can make the difference between chart success and total obscurity. Here, then, are ten of the best classical album covers of 2009…

10. At first glance, the cover of David Greilsammer’s Mozart album doesn’t tell you much about the music on the record, but it does say “timeless, stylish, thoughtfully executed” which, if you think about it, is really all you need to know.

David Greilsammer plays Mozart

9. This is such a strong image that it grabs you by the eyeballs and makes you look at it. It’s related to the music, without trying too hard to provide a literal graphic representation of every word on the cover or a photographic synopsis of the opera.

Quatuor Franz Joseph play Mozart's Don Giovanni

8. If you’re a Londoner, the chances are that you’ll recognize at least a few of the letters on the cover of this collection of new vocal music by British composers. It’s fresh, strong, and communicates something that the words couldn’t. The concept is extremely simple, and didn’t need to be expensive or particularly difficult to execute.

NMC Songbook

7. Rather than speculate on why Julia Fischer’s last ten albums (all on Pentatone) were such an unmitigated visual catastrophe, I’ll just point out that her Decca debut is very pretty – not much of an achievement in itself – but she was an artist that badly needed to have her image softened. This isn’t the best album cover on Earth, but it was just the right piece of branding at the right time.

Julia Fischer plays Bach

6. Pictures of people with violins have been around for five hundred years, so it’s quite an achievement to come up with one that isn’t a cliché. This image of Janine Jansen and her Strad brilliantly captures the airy intensity of the music.

Janine Jansen plays Beethoven & Britten

5. While “woman with violin” is a whole genre of photography unto itself, the realm of “guy with tuba” is still largely uncharted territory. Kudos, then, to the folks that eschewed the predictable “fat guy with beard looking slightly drunk and grinning like a loon while standing awkwardly with his mighty horn” in favor of this. Perhaps “dude invalidates tuba warranty with salt water” is the new tuba cliché?

Oystein Baadvik's 21st Century Tuba Concertos

4. This next one “just” a compilation of violin music. Most people would have gone straight to the cheesy library photos, but not Naïve. They went to the airport. I’d have given them extra points if they’d used a better violin.

Violon X

3. What is it about the Beethoven violin concerto that makes people suddenly realize that they can take a beautiful photograph of a woman playing the violin without it being about how pretty she is? Perhaps Julia Fischer should record it.

Patricia Kopatchinskaya plays Beethoven

2. While most people in early music are trying to disguise themselves as art history professors of the 1970s, Edin Karamazov, meanwhile, is part rockstar, part hobo, and part mad scientist. I love how this cover seems to say “It’s okay to stare at me. I know I’m doing something odd”.

Edin Karamazov's The Lute is a Song

1. Picture the meeting where somebody says “Ok. So Cecilia’s new album is about boys that had their balls chopped off so they could sing like girls. We thought we’d photoshop her head onto a marble statue of a dude with no *ahem*”. It’s not just surprising that this worked out well. It’s a miracle that it didn’t end whole careers, and yet the execution is as close to perfect as I can imagine, and it totally pays off. You’ll never see an album cover quite like this again.

Cecilia Bartoli's Sacrificium



Post a comment
  1. Jimmy #
    October 29, 2009

    What so I’m not good looking enough for you huh?! Or was my cover just too special and real for this list? (Yes, that must be it…)

    • properdiscord #
      October 29, 2009

      You’re too handsome, Jimmy. I didn’t want Leif Ove Andsnes to get a complex. He’s already depressed from sitting in the dark half the year.

      This, right here, is why I don’t say nice things. Nobody complained about being left out of this post.

      In real life, your album cover looks lovely. I don’t know quite what happened, but the only hi-res digital version I can find has something wrong with the contrast, where the black comes out grey. It probably happened when it was scanned by the distributor, but it looks just like all those A-Level photography projects where the print has been overexposed and the student has taken it out of the developer too early in an attempt to compensate, screwing up the contrast in the process. It’s a minor issue in the overall scheme of things, but it’s a bit difficult to hold it up as an example of how an album cover ought to look when it appears to feature a rudimentary photographic error (albeit a minor one). In retrospect, I suppose I could have fixed it in photoshop, but I must admit it just didn’t occur to me at the time.

      • Jimmy #
        October 29, 2009

        Thanks for letting me know. Will get my machete and head over the distributors right now…

        Let me know when you’re next over here – we can take Leif out for coffee and cheer him up 🙂

  2. Fredrik #
    December 16, 2009

    A good list. Plausible choices of covers and good argumentation for them. Couldn’t have composed a better list myself.

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