What is the meaning of this record cover?

What is the meaning of this record cover?


norman lebrecht

September 13, 2021

The blonde is naked and the bloke appears to be wearing a yellow star.

This is supposed to illustrate the first symphony of Joachim Raff, a German-Swiss composer who lived from 1822 to 1882.

How, exactly?

The symphony is titled ‘to the Fatherland’.


  • Gustavo says:

    Ich raff’s nicht.

  • sam says:

    even the horses are like, wtf, get me off this cover now

  • Peter says:

    The Swiss label Tudor have issued 17 or so albums of Raff’s music all of which have cover art by Swiss painter Arnold Boecklin. From what I can tell it’s a random pairing of Swiss art and music with no apparent connection.

  • Brettermeier says:

    This obviously is an allegory on the battle of Stalingrad. The hammer represents strength and masculinity, wielded and the strong arms of the red army. His gaze merciless, watching over a neverending…

    Just kidding. That’s war, plague, and death. It’s a painting from Böcklin painted in… thinking… failing… googling… 1896. I never liked Böcklin. Too depressing.

    Probably it was chosen because Böcklin was a contemporary of Raff. And Swiss.

    I’m also confident that you already put much more thought into it than whoever had the poor taste of choosing it for that cover.

  • Rob says:

    It’s the unfinished second version of Böcklin’s Der Krieg (War). Supposed to depict War, Pestilence, and Death, (three riders) riding through a medieval town. It may have been used because the fourth movement of the Symphony is supposed to describe German disunity.

    • David K. Nelson says:

      Böcklin for whatever reason painte multiple versions of some of the same paintings – his Isle of the Dead (set to music by Reger and Rachmaninov but it may be they each set different versions to music) being just one example, with three or four versions, and La Guerre/War being another with two.

      War, plague and death were Böcklin’s common topics. N.L.’s bloke who appears to be wearing a yellow star is the Black Death, holding a scythe. His skin is withered, rotting, and clings to the bones

      And it’s not just a yellow star, N.L., it is the sun. Remember in Revelations that The Fourth Plague was a blazing, scorching sun that killed the crops and caused men to blaspheme during their suffering. Albert Camus’ The Plague continues this linking of the hot sun with the plague and with death and suffering.

      The plague, like the sun in Revelations, was viewed as a punishment, and clearly that is how Böcklin depicts it.

      Off topic, this portion of Revelations is getting fresh attention from fundamentalist believers as an explanation for climate change.

      So what’s all that got to do with Raff and his prize-winning symphony?

      Maybe nothing, as Peter surmises, just using Böcklin paintings for covers and it was La Guerre’s turn. Rob mentions the fourth movement depicting German disunity as a possible explanation. Maybe somebody at Tudor records was slyly inserting the thought that this “vaterland” stuff was not going to end well for Europe and Germany, but was greatly pleasing to Mr. Death. Or perhaps Mr. Death, being a tall slender man, is a fitting symbol for someone named Raff. Now that I know is a stretch.

      Stadlmair was a very good conductor, and not a bad composer either. I had him (and the soloist) autograph my copy of the Bach Concerto in E after hearing him perform it with violinist Lukas David, who had recorded Stadlmair’s Violin Concerto.

  • In art history class they might have called this “Symbolist”.

    But unless you’re in on the symbols you can’t decode it.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Here is the music (with a less disorienting picture):


    A kind of classicism à la Mendelssohn with more romantic touches.

    He was a diverse composer far ahead of his time: when director of the conservatory in Franfurt, he set-up a composition course specially for women.


  • Mark Andruss says:

    The painting is “War” by Arnold Bocklin, a Swiss painter roughly contemporary with Raff. Raff’s First Symphony was described this way: Raff uses extensively a melody composed in 1825 by Gustav Reichardt for Ernst Moritz Arndt’s poem Was ist des Deutschen Vaterland?.[1]

    According to Helen Raff’s biography of her father, “The first three movements are supposed to show German life and existence, the fourth describes German disunity.” She further adds: “The fifth movement begins with a lament on the destiny of greater Germany and then proceeds to develop prophetic visions of future unity and majesty.” Joachim Raff’s note about the symphony states “Here the composer felt himself permitted the use of a motive not original with him … as a symbol.”[1]

    Hitler was a fan of Bocklin’s work and owned (or stole?) 11 paintings.

    The figure of death appears with a sun only in the version where three figures are riding over a medieval town, indicating the plague as well as disunity.

    I suppose the choice of painting is a commentary on the dangers of (German) patriotism.

  • pvl says:

    Do musicians have a voice in design of records with their performances?

  • Hilary says:

    In the days of vinyl where there was scope for detailed artwork It would have peaked my interest. In smaller/ non existent formats it would seem a bit confusing.

  • Tony Sanderson says:

    To change the subject slightly, what do people think of Raff’s symphonies. I have enjoyed the first two and the Thuringer Suite coupled with Symphony No. 2. Not game changers like Mahler symphonies, but well put together and Raff keeps the music moving along.

  • mel says:

    I imagine Böcklin’s copyright was up and the first to come up that hasn’t been used for a music cd…