William Schwann

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Musicologist William Schwann was the father of the record catalog, with the long-running classical music guide bearing his name still an indispensable resource for collectors, performers and critics alike.…
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Musicologist William Schwann was the father of the record catalog, with the long-running classical music guide bearing his name still an indispensable resource for collectors, performers and critics alike. Born in Salem, Illinois on May 13, 1913, he graduated from the University of Louisville's Conservatory of Music in 1935, later settling in Massachusetts to pursue graduate studies at Harvard and Boston University and study organ with E. Power Biggs. In 1949, Schwann opened The Record Shop, a music store in the Cambridge area; the Columbia label had introduced long-playing albums only a few months earlier, and already some 600 titles were now available to consumers. He soon organized the first Schwann catalog simply as a means of organizing a list of available recordings; comprising 26 hand-typed and mimeographed pages, it sold 11,000 copies in just a few weeks. Within a month, however, the steady flow of new releases rendered the catalog's first edition obsolete, and Schwann came to the conclusion that he would need to publish a new volume each month. The catalog's popularity continued to grow, and by 1953 he was forced to sell the record store in order to focus all of his energies on publishing; Schwann eventually hired a support staff, later expanding into jazz and Broadway musical catalogs as well. He sold the company in 1976, although he continued overseeing day-to-day operations until his retirement in 1985. At the time of Schwann's death on June 7, 1998, the catalog -- now called Schwann's Opus -- was owned and operated by Valley Media, with each quarterly edition coming in at well over 1,000 pages.