With the possible exception of Albert Wilfred Barbelle, perhaps no other Tin Pan Alley sheet music artist was quite so prolific as E. H. Pfeiffer.
Born in New York City in 1868, Edward Henry Pfeiffer showed an interest in art from an early age, likely influenced at least in part by his father, Henry Pfeiffer, a German immigrant and tailor. As early as 1892, Pfeiffer was already designing the sheet music covers that would make him famous, and by 1910, he was on his own two feet as a freelance illustrator. (Source: ragpiano.com)
Those familiar with sheet music art of this period invariably recognize Pfeiffer's covers by his distinctive signature. (Mostly "E H Pfeiffer, N. Y.", though there are other variants.) And this is what's made it so easy for me to find these. There are many other sheet music covers by Pfeiffer, and I hope to follow up with another top 5 list soon.
For now, let's explore these top 5 E H Pfeiffer sheet music covers.
5.) Come Back To Me, My Melody (1912): We've all had that gnawing experience of having had a great idea or insight, only to forget it soon after. And when that idea is for a musical composition or a work of art, it is even more tragic, because it's a potentially enriching experience that the world will never know. In this song, a composer has an idea for a melody, but forgets it, and in the chorus he begs it to come back.
The choice of two colors in this cover, (besides being a clever cost-saving measure,) is especially effective because the yellow tint that is being used throughout has an almost dreamlike quality to it. (It does resemble sepia tone, which is often used to add a hazy dimension to works of art.) Add to this the illusion of distance between the main figure at right and the orchestra at left, and you can almost feel his sense of hopelessness at having lost his melody.
4.) He'd Have to Get Under - Get Out and Get Under (To Fix Up His Automobile) (1913): The automobile, which had come out only a few decades prior, was still a novelty and a luxury which not many people had. Yet, assuming that this song describes a universal and relatable experience, (as most good songs do,) it still had a ways to go as far as improving reliability.
Regardless of how common it actually was to have a car break down all the time, it can't be denied that this song is especially playful and humorous, and Pfeiffer's use of bright orange throughout the cover further emphasizes that. Just as with the last cover, this cover masterfully uses a selective color palette to emphasize the mood of the song.
3.) Send It Up a Little Higher, Joe (1914): And at the same time, the airplane was also just arriving on the scene, (although it was newer than the automobile by roughly a decade.) This song was published eleven years after the Wright Brothers' intrepid first flight at Kitty Hawk, during which time the airplane made significant strides, and could now be "sent up a little higher" with more than one person on board. (This song, as well as the better known "Come, Josephine, in my Flying Machine," among others, were about flying as an activity for a date. Such a theme would make for a cute novelty song, but how many couples have actually done this?) As with the last song, this is one of many examples of how new modes of transportation and technology (which were proliferating and rapidly advancing at this time,) were exploited by songwriters for their novelty and social relevance.
Now for the cover, there are more colors being used than there were in the last two, but more impressive still is the composition. The box around the two main figures contains everything within its bounds. Everything, that is, except the airplane wing at lower left, and the woman's fluttering scarf and handkerchief above. The handkerchief then ducks behind the hand lettering in the title at the top, making for an almost three dimensional look that keeps things interesting.
2.) At the Devil's Ball (1913): Even though I don't especially like to repeat myself all the time, I have commented on this cover before, as it is one of my all-time favorites, and I can't say it any better now than I did then:
"Many music experts will tell you (incorrectly) that the first songs about the Devil were those by bands such as Black Sabbath in the 1970s, but that's completely untrue. Here we see one such example: a song written by Irving Berlin about a dance hosted by the Devil 'in his great, big fiery hall.' I've heard this song many times, and have even tried playing it on the piano, because I love how catchy it is.
"Artistically, I also find the cover to be so appealing in so many ways. I especially like the bold use of red throughout, as well as the composition, where the Devil, (looking like a real Casanova,) appears to be beckoning us into his dance hall to enjoy a good time. It's a playful and ironically non-threatening depiction of what is considered by religious folk to be the biggest threat of all. In spite of ourselves, we kind of want to dance there--but as long as it's only for one night!"
Before I continue, here are some honorable mentions:
He's So Good to Me (1913)
Lead Me to That Beautiful Band (1912)
The Wife Hunters (1910)
1.) College Stunts (1909): College in the early 1900s was nothing like it is today. Rather than being told that one has to go no matter what, people went because they wanted to. And these were mostly ambitious people who wanted to train to become doctors or lawyers, (or for any other such lofty professions.) Add to this the fact that only the wealthy could afford to go, and you get many more grateful students who are eager to make the most of their experience rather than taking it for granted.
And what's a well-rounded college experience without the occasional party?? This cover conveys the party atmosphere very skillfully with its bright and bold use of many colors, such as red, yellow, orange, purple, and blue. Bold lines and caricatured faces also add to the playful element of this cover, which clearly shows students who are glad to be in college but (at least at this moment) don't want to take themselves too seriously. Unlike some of the last covers we just saw, E. H. Pfeiffer deviates from his usual semi-realistic depictions and subdued color usage to bring us a delightfully fun and entertaining work of art.
That's it for this list. Which E. H. Pfeiffer sheet music covers do you like the best? Are there any you wish I had included? As always, please let me know in the comments, and we can have a nice chat.
Till next time!