Up until Alex Steinweiss became the Art Director of Columbia Records in 1938, 78 rpm records were sold in the United States in plain kraft paper sleeves or in sets bound with gray packaging only distinguishable by the embossed title on the spine. The records would be displayed front to back with their spines facing upwards by which they appropriately became known as “tombstones.” Within a year of arriving at the studio, Steinweiss transformed those stale, gray tombstones into works of art that captured the consumer’s attention, boosted album sales, and allowed the audience to visualize the music embedded in the record’s grooves.
As this was happening within Columbia’s walls, political tensions were rising internationally, and the United States of America would soon find itself in the midst of World War II. Conflict and resolution have often been the inspiration for performances and recordings of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 (“Choral”), and World War II was no exception. It was during this time that Columbia released two very different recordings of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as part of their Masterworks “M” series. Each release featured equally different, original album art designs by Steinweiss. The first, M-227 featuring Felix Weingartner conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, was released in 1944 as political tensions were reaching a high within the war. The second, M-591 featuring Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, was released in 1946 in the aftermath of the war as the world turned toward rebuilding and healing. Just as Weingartner and Ormandy were able to create two wildly different renditions of the same piece of music, Steinweiss uses objectively similar visual elements to create two distinctively vivid album covers, each reflecting their cultural context within the war. These two album covers are Steinweiss’s contribution to the long history of commentary and critical reception that have amassed since Beethoven wrote his final symphony Together, the relevance of Steinweiss’s album cover art and the cultural significance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony resonated with the American people, especially during this period of political and emotional instability.
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|Commitee:||Hart, Dylan, Lindau, Elizabeth Ann|
|School:||California State University, Long Beach|
|School Location:||United States -- California|
|Source:||MAI 58/05M(E), Masters Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||Music history, Musical composition, Design|
|Keywords:||Album art, Beethoven, Steinweiss, Alex|
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