Despite the prevalence of cheap classical records, collectors still spent big on rare pressings of Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach in 2022.
Unlike fans of popular music, record collectors interested in classical recordings can easily amass a sizable collection of great performances for relatively little money. From symphonies and sonatas to concertos and chamber music, there’s a surplus of inexpensive new and used classical recordings on the market. The introduction of the 12-inch vinyl LP in 1948 was a boon for classical artists as it allowed for easier reproduction and distribution of compositions. As such, millions of records were sold as soloists, ensembles, and record labels sought to add classical repertoire to the world’s vinyl library.
CDs swiftly surpassed vinyl LPs when they were introduced in 1982. The smaller, portable format offered fans of classical music better sound clarity with a lower noise floor and promised even longer runtimes without having to flip the disc.
The CD is well-suited for classical music which requires less surface noise for pianissimo passages and pauses between movements. The format’s long runtime can also accommodate several types of compositions, including full symphonies which typically run anywhere from 30 to 50 minutes. In fact, it’s rumored that executives of Philips and Sony decided the CD’s maximum runtime would be 74 minutes so listeners could hear Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony without interruption. The longest recording the companies could find was a 1951 performance conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler which ran exactly 74 minutes.
Despite the prevalence of inexpensive classical records, collectors still shell out thousands for recordings of works by Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach. Three of the top 10 most expensive releases sold on Discogs in 2022 were classical recordings. Why? The answer, it turns out, is simple — rarity. These releases share a few key characteristics: each is an original pressing, sold in near mint condition that was released in the 1950s or 1960s. It’s unlikely that many original pressings are still in circulation.
Since sound quality and interpretation are critical to classical performance, records pressed during the ’50s and ’60s are highly sought after. During this time, advances in recording technology dramatically reduced surface noise on vinyl records. Additionally, the performance of classical music has changed radically since the 1950s due to the creation and adoption of historically informed performance, also known as HIP. HIP is an approach to the performance of classical music that aims to be authentic to the manner and style in which a work was originally composed. This authenticity is achieved by performing with period instruments or replicas, as well as implementing un-notated performance aspects, including tuning and dynamics. As a result, collectors may prefer records pressed during earlier decades as they prefer a more modern interpretation.
About the Releases
Mozart À Paris (1763–1778)
by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart & Orchestre de Chambre Fernand Oubradous
Originally pressed by French Pathé in 1956 to commemorate the bicentenary of Mozart’s birth, Mozart À Paris features 23 compositions by the famed composer written during the three periods he visited Paris. Spread across 7 vinyl LPs, each piece is performed by French chamber ensemble Orchestre de Chambre Fernand Oubradous. An original pressing of this box set was sold on Discogs for $19,277 USD.
by Ludwig van Beethoven, Leonid Kogan & Paris Conservatoire Orchestra
Russian violinist Leonid Kogan is considered one of the greatest violinists of the twentieth century, and his performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major is a favorite amongst classical fans. In this interpretation of Beethoven’s work, Kogan skillfully plays cadenzas written by violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim in the first and third movements. An original pressing from 1961 was sold for $7,500 USD.
Enesco Plays Bach Sonatas
by Johann Sebastian Bach & George Enescu
Released in 1960, Enesco Plays Bach features all six of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin on three vinyl LPs. Romanian violinist George Enescu considered the Sonatas and Partitas “The Himalayas of violinists” and his interpretation of these works is arguably the most famous. Copies of the original US release were sent to Enescu’s native Romania, where the box set’s red velvet cover was replaced with locally made ones. Versions featuring this cover became known as the “Romanian Release” and were never sold in stores. An original “Romanian Release” of this record was sold on Discogs for $6,914 USD.