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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.

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

35. Berlioz in Monaco

Hector Berlioz certainly expressed a liking for the south of France, and the principality in particular, but he was only ever a brief and occasional visitor. The royal family of Monaco were great admirers, and were responsible for the statue of the composer that was erected in 1903, the centenary of his birth, outside the opera house-casino.

In 1969, Monaco recognised the centenary of his death with a set of 10 stamps, one showing the statue, the others scenes from La Damnation de Faust. These are quite detailed depictions, so you can click on them to get a larger view.


34. Franz Liszt

Liszt's reputation as a pianist is probably more substantial than that as composer. Whatever the reason, his legacy on stamps is much greater than the subject of last week's article, Johannes Brahms. There are in excess of 50 Liszt-related stamps from numerous countries, not surprisingly led by the country of his birth, Hungary.

I don't intend to "list" (pardon the pun) every issue, as almost half come from those countries whose stamp-issuing behaviour is rather scattergun as we have seen before. Instead, I will limit today's article to releases from Hungary, Austria and Germany.

The first stamp to bear his likeness is one of the earliest to feature a composer: 1932 in a set of famous Hungarians.

It was followed in 1953 by another release in a set of Hungarian composers, and in 1956 with an issue marking Stamp Day.

1961 was the 150th anniversary of his birth. To recognise this, Hungary issued two stamps, and was joined by Austria (one) and East Germany (four, which also include Berlioz and Chopin).

1967 saw another Hungarian release, a famous portrait of Liszt, in a set of paintings held in the National Gallery. In 1973, there is an East German issue in a set celebrating famous artists who spent time in Weimar.

We have to move forward to 1986 for more, this being the centenary of his death, though rather oddly, the Hungarian release clearly is celebrating the 175th anniversary of his birth. Here the German stamp is from West Germany; there was none from East Germany.

Finally in 2011, the bicentenary of his birth, we have three more releases.

33. Johannes Brahms

Attendeing a concert with a fine performance of the Brahms Symphony 2 at the weekend leads me to look at his philatelic representations.

Rather surprisingly, there are no stamps featuring the composer before 1971, and even more surprisingly, when he does appear, it is on a stamp issued by the Arabian nation of Ras al Khaima, now part of the United Arab Emirates. It was one of a set of five, the other four showing Vivaldi, Rossini, Chopin and Haydn.

The following year was the 75th anniversary of his death, but the three stamps are not from countries that you would imagine would be celebrating this: Niger and Dahomey.

1983 was the 150th anniversary of his birth and brought some activity from more expected sources: East and West Germany and Czechoslovakia, as well as Monaco.

Fourteen years later, we have the 100th anniversary of his death, and four more issues. That one is from Austria is only surprising in that it has taken this long for them to issue a stamp featuring Brahms, but Uruguay and Equatorial Guinea are rather less obvious. By now, you will have realised that the stamp designs for some countries don't seem to need a connection to the country. The fourth is from Monaco, which does seem to have a significant tradition of music-themed issues. I'm surprised that the reunified Germany did not see fit to issue a stamp.

32. Opera & operetta from Austria

Two sets today from Austria, celebrating long traditions of opera, in the form of the 100th anniversary of the Staatsoper, and operetta.

The Staatsoper set from 1969 shows what I presume to be drawings made from photographs taken at actual productions. A surprising inclusion was Swan Lake.

Carmen Don Carlos Don Giovanni Fidelio
Lohengrin Der Rosenkavalier Die Zauberflöte Swan Lake

The operetta set shows scenes from six famous works. It was difficult to know whether to use German or English titles, as The Merry Widow seems to be generally referred to in translation, unlike Die Fledermaus.

Franz Lehár
The Merry Widow
Carl Millöcker
Der Bettelstudent
Robert Stolz
Two Hearts in Waltztime
Oscar Straus
Ein Walzertraum
Johann Strauss
Die Fledermaus
Carl Zeller
Der Vogelhändler

31. Unsung Composers Pt 3

And the final set of sixteen.

Franz Schmidt Clara Schumann Carlos Seixas Antonio Soler
Louis Spohr Johan Svendsen Jan Sweelinck Karol Szymanowski
Mikos Thoedorakis Eduard Tubin Joaquin Turina Fartein Valen
José Vianna da Motta Leo Weiner Healey Willan Carl Ziehrer

30. Unsung Composers Pt 2

Sixteen more stamps featuring composers whose names will be mostly familiar, but not likely to be ones you hear or see performed very often.

Michael Haydn Toivo Kuula Guillaume Lekeu Leevi Madetoja
Oskar Merikanto Arthur Meulemans Karl Millöcker Stanisław Moniuszko
Mihály Mosonyi Jan Paderewski Hans Pfitzner Ignaz Pleyel
Joachim Quantz Max Reger Josef Rheinberger Harald Saeverud

29. Unsung Composers Pt 1

Here I'm using the term "unsung" to refer to those composers beyond the big names, rather than ones with very little presence in the catalogue. The forty-eight composers who will appear in this and the next two columns are likely to be mostly known to most readers, but certainly do not feature regularly in reviews on this site. That said, in just this month, there have been reviews of at least two of the composers appearing below.

One further selection criterion is that the stamp was issued by the composer's home country, and not from some unlikely African country with no connection to the composer (see column #4 for example). Also, I have not included stamps which have already featured in previous columns, ruling out a number of candidates from Italy, Switzerland and the USA.

Hugo Alfven Carl Almqvist Grażyna Bacewicz Frantizek Benda
Peter Benoit Franz Berwald Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf Heino Eller
Ferenc Erkel Ferenc Farkas Zdenĕk Fibich Johann Fux
Constantino Gaito Alberto Ginastera Mieczysław Karłowicz Johann Martin Kraus

28. Organs

A change of content this week: not a composer or performer to be seen. Instead we will focus on the "King of Instruments", the grand pipe organ, which has been well represented on stamps over the years. The thirty stamps below are certainly not a complete survey, but will do for our purposes, which is where a particular real organ itself is the focus, rather than a generic one in the design background.

The first is from 1946, and shows an instrument from the West gallery of the Stephansdom in Vienna. It was one of a set of ten charity stamps intended to raise funds for the rebuilding of the cathedral; the organ itself no longer existed, having been destroyed in 1945. The other two from Austria show the "Bruckner organ" in the Abbey of St Florian (1954), and the organ in the Musikverein, commemorating its 100th year (1970).

The first stamps of this theme that I had been aware of were from East Germany (1976), and celebrated the famous instrument builder, Gottfried Silbermann, with four of his output, located in Rötha, Freiberg, Fraureuth and Dresden.

A Belgian set from 2000 shows not only the organs but also the churches in which they are located: Norbertine Abbey Church, Grimberg; Collégiale Sainte Waudru, Mons; O.L.V. Hemelvaartskerk, Ninove; Bastogne.

The next group includes two each from France (Wasquehal and Poitiers), The Vatican and Poland (Jęd and Pelplin).


Without doubt, the award for the most serious contribution to this topic goes to Luxembourg: a set from 2007 features no fewer than 12 instuments: Conservatoire, Bridel, Mondercange, Grund, Niederwiltz, Sandweler, Echternach, Esch-sur-Alzette, Philharmonie, Nommern & Heiderscheid.

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