MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             




Reflections of a Music Publisher



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 him.

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' temporal substance.

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 as president.

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 years.

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.

Return to Index