Come back, William Schwann, all is forgiven

I’ve been listening to more classical music again lately, and I miss the old Schwann catalog.

I discovered Schwann back in the 1970s, when I was in high school, and my friend Michael and I used to make regular trips to the funky Record Runner store on Marshall Street, passing through the popular music room at the front to the classical room in back. There we’d be surrounded by thousands of classical LPs for sale — and several copies of the current Schwann catalog, listing every recording of every classical composition in print. Great for reference, fun for just browsing. I couldn’t have imagined maintaining a classical collection without it. (There were Schwann catalogs for other genres, too, but who cared?)

This page tells the sad history of Schwann’s decline and fall. Record stores stocked fewer and fewer classical recordings, and stopped using the catalog because they didn’t want to be bothered with special orders (that would be too much like real work, apparently), so smaller distributors stopped listing their recordings in the catalog, and that was that.

I still can’t imagine maintaining a classical collection without Schwann, even though I try to.

You’d think it’d be easier than ever: put up a database on the Internet, give it a good search engine, sell the CDs while you’re at it, and call yourself, I don’t know, “Nile” or “Mississippi” or “Yangtze” or something. No problem. But no; no one seems interested in doing that. Oh sure, Amazon has a set of so-called advanced search forms including a Classical & Opera Search, but have you tried using it? Go ahead; try to find recordings of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto. Here are the top five results I get:

1. 25 Mozart Favorites
2. The Most Relaxing Classical Album in the World…Ever! [Oh, man, do not even get me started on this title.]
3. Essential Mozart: 32 Of His Greatest Masterpieces
4. Mozart: Horn Concertos Nos. 1-4 [Horn! Clarinet! What’s the difference?]
5. André Rieu – Romantic Moments

That’s sorted by “Feature Items”, of course. You might get the idea of sorting by title, to at least cluster the Clarinet Concerto recordings together. Except, of course, some of them are titled ‘Mozart: Clarinet Concerto’ and others are ‘Concerto for Clarinet’ and… you get the picture. (And, no, this advanced search doesn’t have an option to search on words in the CD title.)

At least Schwann’s catalog could be used in an emergency as toilet paper. You can’t even do that with the Amazon search, even though it’s of little use for anything else.


3 thoughts on “Come back, William Schwann, all is forgiven

  1. Have you tried Arkiv Music? Their classical selection puts Amazon’s to shame, and it’s well-organized. The only caveat is that you click through categories to find what you want; there isn’t a search engine.


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