Recently, while making a program book, I got caught in a rabbit hole. I’ll be reproducing the Time magazine cover from 20 July 1942, which featured “Fireman Shostakovich”, and so I ended up in the Time online archives, searching for other composers – and classical musicians generally – who’d appeared on the covers since 1923.
The result isn’t very surprising. The Time covers paint as good a picture as any of classical music’s changing prominence in culture. Of the 64 covers devoted to classical music (63 if you don’t want to count Cole Porter) about three quarters appeared before 1956.
[Download a PDF of this sobering little timeline.]
Selected observations – some curious, some disheartening:
- The last classical figure to appear on a Time cover was Vladimir Horowitz in 1986.
- The last composer to appear was Johann Sebastian Bach in 1968 and he’d been dead 218 years. (To put this in perspective, the other 11 composers to appear were all alive at the time.)
- The last musician of any kind to appear on a Time cover was Michael Jackson (in 2009).
- Opera singers were the most frequently represented type of musician, with 22 on 21 covers.
- Conductors were the next most represented, with 17. (The Rostropovich cover shows him with baton in hand and the caption “Maestro”, so I’m counting him as a conductor here.)
- The multiple appearances award goes to Toscanini with three covers. Runners up with two: Rudolf Bing, Giulio Gatti-Casazza, Koussevitsky, Paderewski, Lily Pons, Stokowski and Richard Strauss.
You can explore all this via another rabbit hole that has captured my attention – the updated version of my timeline software, which now permits interactive embedding:
What was surprising insofar as I hadn’t quite imagined it panning out this way, was the dominance of opera, with a relatively large number of singers. (Did Time have an interest in the Metropolitan Opera, I wonder…) Even amongst the composers and other figures, quite a few could be said to have an opera connection. Menotti, for example, featured on a cover the year The Consul won a Pulitzer prize. Mascagni is another Time composer; Richard Strauss was featured twice.