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Classical Music on Stamps
A weekly feature presented by David Barker

I think it is a reasonably safe proposition that many readers of MusicWeb International will have had some degree of interest in stamps - it's a collecting thing. In my case, philately came first, though it had faded away by the time I became seriously interested in classical music. Only in the last year or so have the two interests coincided - I guess that's what retirement allows.

This feature is not intended to become a comprehensive survey of classical music on stamps, but rather to present a particular topic each week. This might be a composer, country or event. There are in excess of 2000 stamps featuring a composer, plus many more with a musical connection, so there are plenty to choose from.

Illustrations are either from my own collection or the online database Colnect. The most recent topic will always be at the top of this page.

45. More unlikely stamps

It's time for some stamps from another unlikely source: in this instance, a group of famous opera singers in a set of 15 from that great hotbed of Western opera, Nicaragua, issued in 1975. Tongue in cheek comments aside, there is no doubt that the choices and designs were thought out properly, as each of the singers is pictured in a role that was closely associated with them, Kirsten Flagstad as Isolde, Maria Callas as Tosca, for example.

Unfortunately, the best images I could source are fairly small, so I can't link them to better larger versions this time.

44. Romania's favourite son

George Enescu is undoubtedly Romania's best known classical composer, and he has made frequent appearances on the country's stamps, 20 to be precise. Some have been associated with anniversaries of his birth or death, orthers with the music festival that bears his name, and others simply to celebrate him.

The first was in 1946 and we have actually seen it already, as part of a set that celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Bucharest Philharmonic.

The 75th anniversary of his birth, in 1956, saw the issue of a set of two, the first showing him as a five year old violin prodigy. What is surprising is that his death the previous year was not recognised on a stamp.

In 1961, there were two stamps bearing his likeness, the first part of a set showing treasures from the national art collection - a sculpture by Gheorghe Anghel - and the second marking the second Enescu Music festival.

The third Festival, held in 1964, saw three issues, perhaps the most attrractive designs of all.

It would be 16 years before there were more Enescu-flavoured stamps, this time four marking a cultural and economic collaboration called InterEuropa, which I can find essentially nothing about.

The following year was the 100th anniversary of his birth, and a stamp with his portrait did appear, but it was in a set with other musicians without any significant connection to the year.

The next two, from 1995 and 2005, mark the 40th and 50th anniversaries of his death.

Of the remaining five, only the final one has a clear connection to an anniversary, 60 years since the first music festival.


43. Ballet down under

In honour of the Royal New Zealand Ballet, members of which were forced to take cover during a rehearsal of The Nutcracker when a 6.1 magnitude earthquake rumbled through Wellington yesterday, here is the 2003 set released to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the company.


In order to make this a slightly more substantial column, here is the 2012 release of stamps to celebrate the same anniversary of the Australian Ballet.

42. Joseph Haydn

'Papa' Haydn appeared in the first set of stamps to feature musicians, which was the subject of the first article in this series. He appeared three more times on Austrian stamps, in 1959 (the 150th anniversary of his death), 1982 (the 250th anniversary of his birth) and 2009 (the 200th anniversary of his death).

He appears around 30 times in total on world stamps, but it isn't my intention to show them all. He was born in a small town on the border with Hungary, and since his employer for all those years, the house of Esterházy, was Hungarian in origin, it seems appropriate to also show that country's contribution, being three stamps, two issued in 1959 and the other in 2009.

Of the other issuing countries, let's finish with four which definitely fit into the "why do they have Haydn on their stamp?" category: China, Djibouti, Dominica and Mozambique. The Dominica release is from 1977 in a Beethoven commemoration set, the others are from 2009.

41. Tchaikovsky centenaries

Only the Soviet Union commemorated the centenary of his birth in 1940 with a set of five, in which there were two repeat designs, with different colours and denominations.

In 1993, the 100th anniversary of his death, there were again five stamps issued, but from four countries, none of them part of the old USSR, though Russia had issued a stamp two years earlier, marking the 150th anniversary of his birth. Bulgaria and Cuba did at least have political ties to the USSR, but why Northern Cyprus (the Turkish section) and Equatorial Guinea (formerly a Spanish colony) chose to mark the occasion is not obvious.


40. "Music of the Stamps"

This is the title given by La Poste (France) to this 2010 booklet of 12 stamps featuring musical instruments depicted in paintings from the nineteenth century and earlier. Again, click on the images for a better view.


39. Hungarian opera

Actually, only two of the operas depicted on this 1967 set are Hungarian. There seems to be no particular anniversary or commemoration that the set is linked to. Again, click on the images for a better view.

Prince Igor Der Freischütz The Magic Flute Bluebeard's Castle
Carmen Don Carlos Tannhäuser László Hunyadi (Erkel)

38. The Mozart bicentenary in 1956

Mozart, of course, had another bicentenary within living memory for many, that of his birth. It was probably the first substantial musical anniversary to be widely recognised on stamps. The Bach death bicenentary six years earlier only saw releases from the two Germanies.

The Belgium stamp showing the young Mozart was also replicated, in different colours, in issues by two Belgian colonies, Belgian Congo and Ruanda-Urundi.

Austria Belgium
Bulgaria Czechoslovakia East Germany
West Germany Romania USSR  

37. The Mozart bicentenary in 1991

1991 saw a huge push by record labels to promote the music of Mozart, Philips with its complete edition being the leader. The philatelic world did its bit, with more than 20 countries releasing around 40 stamps commemorating the 200th anniversary of his death. I've included one from each country. I think it's fair to say that there are as many unexpected entries as there are obvious ones.

Albania Andorra Austria Belgium
Benin Bulgaria Czechoslovakia France
Germany Guyana Hungary India
Israel Italy Liechtenstein Mexico
Northern Cyprus Senegal Sierra Leone Grenadines of St Vincent
Turkey Wallis & Futuna Yugoslavia  

36. The Salle Garnier in Monaco

We shall spend a second week in Monaco, with two 1979 sets celebrating the 100th anniversary of the opening of the opera theatre inside the Monte Carlo casino. As you will have gathered by its name, the architect was the same person who created the opera house in Paris that also bears his name: Charles Garnier.

Ten of the twelve stamps depict scenes from operas and ballets, including eight that premiered in the Salle Garnier. The two exceptions are Strauss's Salome and Auric's Les Matelots. The other two - the highest values in each set - show architectural features. Again clicking on the image gives you a larger view.


Le Jongleur de Notre Dame (Massenet) Hans le Joueur de Flûte (Ganne) Don Quichotte (Massenet)
L'Aiglon (Honegger/Ibert) L'Enfant et les Sortilèges (Ravel) Casino exterior
Les Biches (Poulenc) Les Matelots (Auric) Les Spectre de la Rose (Weber/Berlioz)
Gaîté Parisienne (Offenbach) Salome (Strauss) Salle interior

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