The Daily What recently highlighted the incredible Russian duo People Too‘s gorgeously illustrated sheet music, a piece that makes the visual audible and the audible visual. For someone whose drawing skills are amateur at best, it seems wonderful that the people depicted can be faceless yet so expressive.
If only I had had illustrations like this when learning piano and trombone as a child. I may have kept them both up after I left school. The music seems to come alive, the illustrations seem to dance. It’s such a brilliant mixing of media.
Although I haven’t been able to find much on older examples of illustration of actual sheet music, a la People Too, illustrating sheet music covers does have a long and glorious history, as chronicled in the archives at the V&A, the excellent Illustrated Sheet where there are over 10,000 vintage sheet music covers to be found, and the
of Illustrated American Sheet Music which is usefully annotated (if unhelpfully lacking in the images themselves).
The V&A also has a great article on the history of illustrating sheet music (same link as above) and there’s a fascinating article at Purple Note on print music between 1890 and 1919.
I know there is some really interesting research being done on musical revue culture of the fin de siècle, including the London to Berlin project between Goldsmiths College and Freie Universität. But is there any research at the moment on the illustrations, covers or event posters? And to bring it back to what triggered all this, is there a longer history of illustrating between the music, like People Too — any mediaevalists? There must be someone out there taking advantage of these archives of illustrated music.