7. AN UNHAPPY RELATIONSHIP
I have stated that the publisher has to stake the composer's claims and fight
for them, first for the principle and then for the money which follows the
recognition of the principle. With popular music this is purely a business
like any other, with no reservations of a moral nature, no appeal to ethical
consideration. The rules are well defined, the game needs no umpire.
With serious music the whole climate is entirely different. All claims are
unpopular, resented and resisted, and the publisher, whose task it is to
register and pursue them, is himself the most unpopular figure in musical
life. His alleged greed is contrasted with the hypothetical selflessness
of the composer, who, it is believed, would be content with a more modest
way of life and a lower income from his works than the publisher is trying
to obtain for him-and, which is the most aggravating aspect, for himself.
For the publisher lives on a share of the composer's income; not just a
commission, like a mere agent, but a real share, as I have shown, because
he has not only to act as an agent, writing letters, paying visits, making
telephone-calls and distributing publicity material, but also to print and
publish, sell and hire and keep stocks and books. Whatever the publisher
achieves financially benefits the composer too, by virtue of the existing
contract. Composer and publisher are, in fact, bound by common interests
with only one subtle dif@erence: the composer wants his works performed;
so too does the publisher-but not at any price. This is the point where
'music-users' never tire of separating the two.
Some years ago the Council of Europe convened a commission of legal experts
in Strasbourg to advise on ways and means of facilitating exchanges of musical
programmes between European broadcasting organizations. (One of the impossible
demands made on music is that it should promote and strengthen the spirit
of European co-operation generally by such programme exchanges.) Among other
bodies the Music Section of the International Publishers' Association was
invited to take part in the deliberations, and I had the honour and displeasure
of representing it. Among the fifty experts from more than twenty countries
there were no musicians, only jurists of some prominence, chosen by their
respective governments. From the very beginning of the proceedings I found
myself in the dock. Far from demanding any financial gain, it was said, composers
were glad and grateful for any work performed in Paris to be heard in Zagreb
and Stockholm, and I was told in no uncertain terms that publishers were
acting neither in the interests of composers nor on their instructions when
they tried to make exchanges diflicult by their financial demands. The
representative of one of the smallest, though by no means poorest, European
countries went so far as to say that publishers prevented the spread of learning
and culture and, indeed, the entire progress of humanity.
While I had not expected a particularly friendly welcome this outburst of
hostility came as a surprise. I tried patiently to explain that it was not
fair either to the composer or to the publisher that one single actual
performance should be sufficient to satisfy the whole of Europe without any
supplementary payment to the copyright-owner. Surely, I said, if Radio Stockholm
could relay a work from Radio Paris without cost to itself, it was not likely
to put on a performance of its own for some considerable time. The assembly
listened silently, unconvinced. It was in marked contrast that at the afternoon
session the demands of the musicians and the technical staffs were discussed
with great restraint. They all demanded much heavier supplementary payments
for their services and insisted on restrictive conditions which made the
free exchange of programmes practically impossible. But no accusation was
made and regret was expressed in very careful terms. In my closing speech
I could not help comparing the two attitudes, and an agreement was eventually
reached; but it left a bitter taste.
This incident is an example of a fairly widespread campaign against the
music-publisher, characteristic of the change in the organization of our
musical life and of the art itself There is a belief that in present-day
circumstances the publisher of serious music has become a hindrance rather
than a help, and that composers and music-users would be happier without
Indeed, there are great changes which have affected both the position and
the function of the publisher. Before the establishment of the authors' societies
the publisher was the only intermediary between the composer and the organizers
of performances. The material existence of the composer depended entirely
on him, all the composer's income went through the publisher's hands and
if the composer found himself in financial difficulties the publisher was
the first and often the only person to whom he could turn for help. The authors'
societies have now become a new and considerable power, which looks after
the composer's worldly needs with much greater authority than the publisher
ever had. To the composer they must appear his most powerful protectors.
It is true that they have no incentive to economize on their expenses, they
do not know the difference between a genius and a freak, and they cannot
produce any publicity for any of their members. But all this contributes
to their reputation as entirely objective administrators of their composers'
So it has happened that the income the composer receives from the publisher
in the shape of sheet royalties and shares in hire fees is but a fraction
of his total revenue. In France not even the royalties from dramatic performances
are administered by the publisher; in fact the publisher is excluded not
only from the administration, which hurts his pride, but also from any share
of the takings, which hurts his pocket. And, as I have explained before,
where the publisher participates in the rights administered by the authors'
societies it is the author who allows him a share, not the other way round.
All this makes the composer feel much more independent of the publisher than
before and reduces the latter's importance and usefulness. That all the royalties
collected and distributed by the societies are to a large extent the result
of the publisher's activities is never admitted without reservation. It is
significant that in the years since the Second World War the publishers have
lost the leadership of the authors' societies which they had held since their
foundation, when their experience in organization and business made them
indispensable. No performing rights society in Europe still has a publisher
One must not be sentimental about this change. The traditional right of the
publisher is the graphic right, the right to print and to distribute the
works he publishes. Only fifty years ago both composer and publisher could
make a living from it, and in the heydays of music sales they could both
put something by. This graphic right, which remained most valuable in popular
music at a time when serious music could no longer be sold, has now become
almost worthless for both types; tradition has departed from music publishing
so far as serious music, the publication and promotion of which was the glory
of the profession for more than a century, is concerned. Even the most
hard-headed among publishers must occasionally stop to think about the change
which, to many people, makes him look like a remnant from a bygone age, fighting
to keep his place with methods which are not justified morally by being justified
economically. It is indeed a valid question whether, as far as serious
contemporary music is concerned, music-publishing has outlived its day or
whether it still has a function to perform.
No legislation or organization has been able to solve the problem of
the beginner. This problem hardly exists in popular music, where names mean
very little and technical study nothing. The young composer of a pop-song
finds the door of any pop publisher far enough open to give him a chance
unless his work is too obviously bad. But if he has merit he usually has
luck also, and, once lucky, he can wait in comfort until the muse, or whatever
deity may be concerned, knocks again. If he is unlucky, nobody would dream
of encouraging him to try again. For such as him there is no mercy; he must
find another trade to earn his living and nobody pities him. These are very
clear, very reasonable conditions.
Serious works, however, are neither written, accepted nor rejected as quickly
as popular ones. Even the most gifted, ingenious beginner needs ten years
to accumulate a sound basis of successful works-not every work is successful-and
to reach a reasonable income-level. It may even take him this long to come
to the conclusion that his talent is not fulfilling its initial promise.
The organization of musical life has never provided for those years of developing
and maturing or failing. Authors' societies can do nothing for their young
members. There are grants and commissions, usually for impractical works
which disappear into the archives after their first performances. All these
quasi-charitable opportunities are too small and too irregular to provide
the young composer with a secure living, however modest.
Former generations bore this cross with dignity. It was a matter of course
that the young composer had to have a regular job as an orchestral musician,
coach, teacher or small-time conductor until the income from his works was
large enough for him to devote himself exclusively to composing.
Great masterpieces have been written in this way. Gustav Mahler could compose
only during the summer months. If one reads the letters the young Richard
Strauss wrote to his parents one is amazed to discover what a rather frail
young man was capable of seventy-five years ago. On I 2 March I 89@ he writes:
On Tuesday night Tristan [in Weimar], at 11.30 p.m. travelled here [to Leipzig],
Wednesday from 10 a.m. until 2.30 p.m. first rehearsal for the Liszt-Verein
concert, in the evening back to Weimar. Yesterday, Thursday night, conducted
Lohengrin in Eisenach, at 1 a.m. again to Leipzig, today from 10 a.m. till
1 p.m. and from 3 p.m. till 6 p.m. second rehearsal. Tomorrow 10 a.m. main
rehearsal, in the evening concert.... I am feeling a little groggy now but
otherwise well and happy....
Strauss was then twenty-eight years old and had finished his own Opus 26!
He used to admit with a sigh that composing was hard at the end of a busy
season, but he knew no self-pity and continued this life for thirty more
The present generation of composers is physically fitter than all its
predecessors: taller, healthier and more robust. But who would dare to expect
from them what Strauss and many others before him did? In fact mental strength
does not seem to keep pace with physical fitness, and young men today cannot
do two things at a time. If composing, they can do nothing else, and as serious
composing does not immediately produce a livelihood somebody has to keep
the young man's head above water. In the present circumstances this is of
decisive importance for the art in all its aspects. After all, even popular
music has its roots in the art, however illbred an offspring it may be.
As there is no systematic authority for or source of such assistance at the
beginning of a composer's career, the task falls to the publisher. I, like
many other serious publishers, have not only printed immature works in order
to encourage a young man but also paid fixed salaries or guaranteed incomes
to real or presumed talents; like many other publishers, too, I have often
been disappointed. Some only half fulfilled their promise, others not at
all. One, of whom I was not alone in expecting great things and for whom
I procured a ballet commission, absconded on that occasion with a girl from
the corps de ballet and was never heard of again. But the few who fulfil
or exceed expectations compensate for all the failures and mistakes, for
the wasted labour and money. One feels oneself confirmed in one's task and,
rightly or wrongly, believes one has rendered a service to the art, perhaps
even to mankind.
However, such satisfaction is very personal and very solitary and few are
inclined to recognize it, least of all the composers themselves. The older
generation of composers felt, and still feel, closely associated with their
publishers. I found this feeling with Richard Strauss, Igor Stravinsky, Bela
Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly, although none of them needed or received from the
publisher the kind of beneficence that the younger generation needs and receives.
Shortly before his death Richard Strauss told me that he could never forget
that his publisher paid him a large sum for the publishing rights in Salome,
at a time when the best-informed people were convinced that the work would
never be performed. There is no question of such gratitude or recognition
with the younger composer. Once he is successful and feels firm ground under
his feet all his respect for his publisher is quickly gone. Like Beethoven,
he can find six or seven publishers for every new work, men who print and
distribute his music, account for his royalties and do similar menial jobs
for him. For at a certain point in a brilliant career promotion itself becomes
a mere formality. Particularly today, when really successful composers are
rare, all eyes are upon them, and it only needs an announcement that a new
work is available for it to be accepted and performed. Yet at the start of
the composer's career, this would have required many advertisements, leaflets
and letters, much personal persuasion and, above all, faith. That it was
his first publisher who had, and did, all this and gave the young man the
opportunity to make mistakes and to survive them means very little. With
the profit the publisher eventually makes all accounts are considered settled.
There is no room for sentimentality.
However, I cannot blame the younger composers for not feeling so attached
to their publishers as their older colleagues, who had known different times.
The whole development of music and musical life tends to push the publisher
into a kind of parasitic secondary role. Who then can complain if the composer
himself discovers this and turns to those who, unwilling and unable to help
the beginner, associate themselves all the more eagerly with success?
So, in the guise of prosperity, a slow change has crept into the profession
and is beginning to darken its horizon. We shall have to confront the publisher
with the new problems of a new music and shall have to consider the time
which is left to him: for the day is not far off when most of the great successes
of old music will cease to provide the resources with which to finance the
new. When the works of Wagner, Brahms, Bruckner and Dvorak lapsed into the
public domain they left a painful gap. Now Verdi has become public property.
Debussy is about to follow, Puccini has not long to go and by the year 2000
only a fraction of the former wealth will be left with, so far, no adequate
replacement in sight. This is not a question of individual publishers, who
may come and go with their successful composers, but of the profession as
a whole, its place and function in musical life. Will it be replaced by another
institution? Perhaps it was never so much the composer as the performing
public who needed the publisher, just as the reading public needs the
book-publisher. Is not redundancy looming ahead, with the development of
a music unsuitable for a performing public and the ascendancy of a public
more and more given to passive listening.