THE BUSINESS OF MUSIC
Reflections of a Music Publisher
by ERNST ROTH
5. THE MUSIC PUBLISHER: II
Once the drab, misprint-ridden copies leave the press the publisher starts
his real task of distributing them and making the work known and, if possible,
famous. It is a noble purpose, beset by problems and obstacles.
Generally, the publisher is still thought of as the purveyor of printed sheet
music. Indeed, selling music and no more has been his traditional business
since the day in about 1503 when Ottaviano Petrucci of Venice offered the
first printed sheets of music for sale. It was early days, music was a small
art, and music printer-publishers with their small trade were accordingly
small and insignificant people. It was only when music grew in stature and
size during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that its public also
grew and the trade began to flourish.
The public which brought this about was composed, as it had to be, of
non-professional music-lovers and performers. Then, as today, professional
musicians could not alone sustain a trade as such. The amateur performer
was the principal customer; the fate of the musical art and of all those
who served it, composers, publishers, dealers and instrument-makers, was
in his hands. It is well known how music-making spread from collegia musica
to the palaces of kings and noblemen and from those palaces to the humbler
dwellings of a prosperous bourgeoisie; how the comparatively few professionals
became, as it were, demonstrators who taught the amateur to sing or to play
While minor composers were usually careful not to overtax the ability of
the amateur who was to buy their works, great composers showed no such
consideration. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the technical capabilities of the
amateur grew to meet the demands made upon him, and he kept well abreast
of the development of the art. Amateurs throughout the nineteenth century
could sing the most difficult arias and play the most difficult sonatas and
concertos and therefore bought the music. Only in rare and special cases
in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries did the publisher or
the composer safeguard himself by opening a subscription and printing the
names of the subscribers as a kind of roll of honour at the head of the published
In the other arts the amateur is often an object of disdain and derision.
But it was to him that music owed its real life. His history ought to be
written in greater detail and the memorial which he deserves erected to him.
In the first half of the nineteenth century all this was at its best. Instruments
were greatly improved-none more so than the piano, which had risen from the
ranks to become the favourite of the time, soon to be found in every better-class
home. Chamber music, too, was widespread, while singing was a natural part
of the education of well-bred people. It is characteristic of the growth
of the trade that in 1837 an aria from one of Albert Lortzing's charming,
trivial and highly successful operas sold 20,000 copies The population had
only to grow, as in fact it did, to make the music trade a major field of
commerce. The nineteenth century was its golden age. My London printer used
to tell me how he opened his printing-plant with a first order for 5,ooo
copies of the English vocal score of Pagliacci. And the boom spilt over into
the first years of this century: at an exhibition in Vienna in the early
1920s the publisher of The Merry Widow could show statistics of the trainloads
of vocal scores, piano scores, separate pieces and arrangements of all sorts
which had been sold during a few years.
Those days are past and gone, as if they had never been. As usual it was
a variety of causes which began to undermine the music trade after the First
World War. Broadcasting, which left the book trade unharmed, struck the music
trade a heavy blow. The still imperfect but much-improved gramophone record
was another contributory factor. But it was the part played by music itself
which, in the end, proved decisive. It slipped out of the hands of the amateur.
He had grappled successfully with the mounting difficulties of music throughout
the nineteenth century and had even mastered Wagner. Now, in the early 1920s,
it became too much for him. The new music, whether atonal or twelve-tonal
or even traditional, was too highly professional and offered him little or
no access. In the nineteenth century it was contemporary, new music which
kept enthusiasm for the art burning. But after the Great War the amateur
was thrown back on older music, receiving no fresh encouragement from the
music of the day. It is not difficult to sympathize with this today: the
uncertain beginnings of the 1920s have become the stark reality of the 1960s.
The music trade soon felt the pinch. Sales began to drop, though the drop
was at first selective. There were still plenty of children starting music
lessons in the traditional way, and easy music for beginners did not immediately
suffer. Even Chopin's mazurkas and waltzes held their own but his ballads,
scherzi and rondos did not. The day came when publishers of 'classical editions'
had the greatest difficulty in deciding whether to reprint the second volume
of Beethoven's piano sonatas. Chamber music, the greatest treasure of European
music, became a real dilemma for the publisher. Within a few years wide gaps
opened in the catalogues which were never to be filled again. Today only
a handful of the once numerous 'classical editions' survive, and catalogues
are markedly reduced.
Quite recently it has been said that the music-publishers are failing in
their moral duty by allowing old masterpieces to run out of print. The works
quoted as examples were Bizet's La Jolie Fille de Perth, which Sir Thornas
Beecham wished to perform; Rossini's Otello, which was revived in Rome after
being ousted by Verdi's mighty opera three-quarters of a century ago; Schubert's
complete Rosamunde music and even Mozart's Il re pastore. In none of these
cases were vocal scores available, while full scores and orchestral parts
could be obtained only with considerable difficulty.
Though this was certainly sad the responsibility rests not with the publishers
but with the public. All these works are 'in the public domain'. They have
by no means disappeared: scores can be found and copied in every important
public library and parts can be written out by anyone, although by no means
cheaply. But some publisher somewhere would surely reprint them if there
were enough customers to buy copies. To pretend that the 'original' publisher
has an obligation to keep in print works which have lapsed into the public
domain and thence into disuse is foolish, and the accusation that by not
reprinting them he is abusing his monopoly is even more so, because this
monopoly comes to an end with the copyright. The hard fact must be faced-and
it is harder for the publisher than for the few enthusiasts still buying
music-that the once very large number of sheet-music buyers has dwindled
to the few who for one reason or another need it: professionals, teachers
and students. Gone are the days when, at Christmas, music-publishers issued
splendid volumes beautifully bound in linen or leather which were favourite
gifts. In music-publishing Christmas now passes unnoticed, and records have
taken the place of printed music.
If the music-publisher, whether serious or popular, still had the dignified
composure which he once shared with the book-publisher, simply selling music
and leaving it to its fate, both he and his composers would end up in the
There was a time, between the wars, when it was believed that publicity could
halt this process. Posters were printed extolling the pleasures of 'music
in the home?. 'Days of Home Music' were arranged, with lectures and model
performances, and much money was spent by both publishers and dealers in
exhorting people not to abandon the old methods of music-making. It was all
It was not only the technically difficult works of the classical and Romantic
masters which went out of print; there also disappeared from the market other
categories of works which had made great contributions to the livelihood
of composers, publishers and music-dealers.
Foremost among them was the enormous literature of 'salon' and 'recital'
pieces of the type of 'The Maiden's Prayer' by a Polish lady called Badarczewska,
the disappearance of which roused no regret. But this treasure-house of cheap
melodies and fake brilliance served to keep the less erudite amateur in close
touch with music. It was by no means confined to Germany, although composers
such as Brinley Richards, W. V. Wallace or MacDowell were certainly anxious
to have their works published in that promised land. I should perhaps apologize
for including MacDowell, but there were quite a few otherwise more ambitious
composers among the contributors: Wieniawski, Anton Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky.
I remember myself playing Rubinstein's 'Trot de Cavalerie' and Tchaikovsky's
'Troika', which were 'salon' pieces par excellence, and also 'The Silver
Brook' by one Fritz Spindler-Op. 254, no less. Indeed, the most popular composers
had a truly phenomenal output, which indicates the distribution of this kind
of music. I possess a fair collection of that gigantic literature, which,
although mostly published in Germany, had a marked preference for French
titles and advertisements. Nouveautes!, Grands Succes: so run the bold-type
legends on the back pages of pieces like 'La Chasse aux papillons' by Nicolai
von Wilm, Op. 198, No. 6, or O. Hackh, 'Le Chant de la fileuse', Op. 104,
or Theodore Oesten, 'Bocage de roses', Op. 404.
Victorian and Edwardian art and craft seem to have been rediscovered lately.
This music belongs to that period. It is a chapter in the history of musical
culture which found its purely Anglo Saxon manifestation in the equally enormous
quantity of ballads published at the same time in Britain and the United
States. It was an ominous pointer to the decline of everything which had
made music a great art.
If nobody regrets the utter destruction of 'salon' music, I for one deplore
the loss of another large genre which fell a victim to the changes in musical
life: the many arrangements of symphonic and chamber music for piano solo,
piano duet and two pianos which were an essential part of the catalogues
of classical and romantic music. They provided the amateur with an intimate
knowledge of works which were otherwise beyond his active participation.
I myself owe much to these arrangements, and so must many others of my age.
Now that they are no longer available they are scorned by puritans and
historians. People, they say, should not tamper with the originals. And only
the originals will do.
Yet such arrangements have a perfectly respectable ancestry, of which fact
the historians at least should be aware. Beethoven was a diligent arranger
of his own works, arranging or transcribing the Piano Trio, Op. 1 No. 3,
and the Octet, Op. 103, for string quintet, the Piano Sonata, Op. 14, No.1,
for string quartet, the String Quintet, Op. 16, for piano quartet and the
Second Symphony for piano trio. He also approved many arrangements, particularly
of the Septet, for a variety of combinations and for no other purpose than
to make these works accessible to the widest possible circle of amateurs.
In his Paris days Richard Wagner too made a living from arranging such things
as the overture to Donizetti's La favorita for string quartet.
The desire for such practical arrangements, and the better knowledge derived
from them, continued up to the beginning of this century. The symphonic poems
of Richard Strauss and the symphonies of Gustav Mahler were still issued
arranged for piano solo or duet and for two pianos. That marked virtually
the limit of what was reasonably playable on the piano. But after the First
World War all this came quickly to an end. New music did not lend itself
readily to transcription. Even professional coaches had great difficulties
with the vocal score of Wozzeck. But the existing transcriptions of classical
and romantic music also vanished for lack of interest: remaining copies were
pulped, existing plates melted down. It was the end of a whole epoch of musical
Gradually, however, new forms of sheet music began to appear which to a modest
extent made up for the losses of the music trade.
The most respectable of the newcomers was the pocket- or study-score. While
the amateur could still play chamber music and symphonic works in practical
arrangements he had been little interested in scores, which were regarded
as the tools of the professional. In I866 an Englishman, Albert Payne, invented
the pocket score and established himself-characteristically-in Germany rather
than in England. It was not his intention to replace any existing full scores
by small-size reproductions designed not for conducting or playing but for
reading. He only printed scores of chamber music, which had traditionally
never been published in score form but only in parts. It was certainly both
interesting and useful to see Beethoven's Great Fugue in score for the first
time. The success of these little yellow books was so encouraging that Payne's
successors introduced orchestral works into the series, the purpose and
usefulness of which was not immediately apparent. But as the popularity of
live music in the home waned, so the demand for pocket-scores increased,
and the original publisher now finds himself up against a large number of
competitOrs, both in Europe and in America. Old and new music is now issued
in study-score form; musical erudition has replaced the dexterity of the
amateur musician of yesterday.
I wish I could welcome this change as enthusiastically as others have. How
many non-professional music-lovers can really read a score? Even professionals
such as Sergei Prokofiev had their troubles with 'transposing' instruments
and wrote their scores 'in C', with each instrument as it actually sounds,
though they were not so printed because conductors insisted on 'transposing'
instruments being engraved in their proper pitch. For the amateur scorereader
this can be most confusing. He will be able to cope with J. S. Bach, Handel,
Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, but where the orchestration itself is of special
interest, as with Berlioz or Wagner-not to mention Debussy, Richard Strauss
or Stravinsky-he will have to be content with following a melodic line. And
if, in still more modern music, there is no such line, I wonder what real
benefit he can derive from the score. There can be little doubt that the
man who could play Siegfried's Journey to the Rhine from Klindworth's piano
arrangement knew infinitely more about it than the imperfect score-reader
of today. Yet it remains true that the score is the only publishable-and
saleable-form of serious and, particularly, new music.
If the pocket-score brought some relief to the ailing music trade, another
way of making music between the wars contributed more to mitigating the loss
of sales: the accordion. For the oldfashioned amateur of the nineteenth century
music-making was a matter of comparative solitude. In the changing world
after the First World War solitude was no longer desirable, and as music
can serve the most diverse needs it helped the headlong flight from solitude
as much as, in different circumstances, it had promoted seclusion. Mass music
became a slogan and the accordion became its champion. It was like an infectious
disease, spreading within a few years over the whole world. Cleverly sponsored
organizations, clubs and groups created a passionate interest in the instrument,
which had to be both cheaper and easier to play than the instruments built
by skilled artisans in and around Ancona. Accordion manufacture became a
major industry, and the whole Black Forest resounded with the din of machines
producing hundreds of thousands of these instruments, in all sizes.
The accordion had its idealists, who believed that it was capable of artistic
achievements. In Trossingen I heard quite an impressive performance of a
Bach fugue by the Hohner Concert Orchestra, a large assembly of accordions.
Hindemith, Richard Strauss and Stravinsky were among those asked for original
compositions, which they did not supply. The instrument was obviously destined
by providence to remain in the cosier regions of entertainment and, removed
from the interest of puritans, could enjoy transcriptions which were beneath
the dignity of more noble instruments. New publishers and a large, new and
inexpensive literature sprang up and kept the trade busy.
Even after the Second World War it seemed briefly that the accordion was
still with us, and always would be. But, mysteriously, it lost its hold and
vanished. The young took to the guitar-again, not the venerable, beautiful
Spanish instrument as played by Segovia but a poor and cheap relation which
supplies the 'beat' and does not even require printed music at all. In the
last ten years millions of these guitars have been made and sold, with no
benefit to music proper or to the music trade.
Between the wars a movement began which aimed at introducing music into schools
as a regular subject. This movement increased greatly after the Second World
War and is no longer a matter for debate but an accepted fact of life. It
could not make up for everything the music trade had lost, but it opened
up a new field to publishers and dealers which holds out great promise. Much
is expected of music as a part of the curriculum of compulsory education
- Zoltan Kodaly, in the preface to one of his educational works, expressed
his belief that the harmony of music would one day produce harmony between
As far as school was concerned, my generation grew up without music. There
was some primitive and unorganized singing in the lower forms of the grammar
school I attended. The teacher, who also taught such optional subjects as
shorthand and calligraphy, was about the least respected member of the staff,
as we boys soon found out, and this was one more reason for us not to take
singing seriously. During our last four years at school, after our voices
broke, there was no more mention of music. Our teachers behaved as if it
did not exist at all. We heard much about Homer and Sophocles, Shakespeare
and la Fontaine, Goethe and Schiller, but the names of Bach and Mozart were
never mentioned. Incidentally, I do not remember having heard the names of
Leonardo or Michelangelo in school either.
My generation has not acquitted itself well. Two world wars and the monstrous
atrocities that accompanied them do no credit either to the perpetrators
or to their victims. It is, therefore, understandable enough that the new
educators of a new generation should look for new and better ways of education
and should choose music, assuming that an average gift for music is no rarer
than a similar gift for mathematics, which every child must learn. It is
a laudable purpose partly to tempt and partly to coerce children to make
music, although music has never shown itself apt to improve either mind or
character. If mankind could really be bettered through music a generation
of archangels should now be growing up. Yet juvenile delinquency seems to
be rampant in spite or because of the boom in music. I say this with no intention
of disparaging music or of discouraging its introduction into the syllabus,
but one should not expect something from an art that is not in its nature.
Music is neither moral nor immoral, but extramoral. Until quite recently
it was considered a valid expression of every kind of emotion, good or wicked.
Verdi's Iago is musically as important and perfect as his Desdemona. And
our new music has discovered-not for the first time in history-that music
can with equal validity express complete emotional indifference. This inherent
versatility should never be forgotten by those who pin great hopes on music
as an educational medium.
But music is certainly as worthy a subject as any other taught in schools,
and the school music movement has made great strides. In the United States
there are 71,000 school orchestras and highschool bands, with more than 5,000,000
active members. Music plays a similar part in Scandinavian schools and in
other countries. An international organization, Jeunesses Musicales, has
sprung up, which aims at a natural contact between man and music. While all
these new developments are unable to soften the frightening impact of 'pop'
music and groups on the young, they at least educate a few of them in serious
This great movement, however, suffers from one major disadvantage: the prominent
composers of our time seem not to be interested. Their mistrust of the accordion
was understandable, but the recorder, the school orchestra and even the school
band deserve contributions from the best composers to give them a sense of
importance. The sporadic attempts of Hindemith and Britten are too few and
too insignificant. In the main schools live on second-rate music of the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, on transcriptions and arrangements
far worse than the discredited piano versions of chamber and symphonic works,
or on irrelevant original compositions by composers of no standing.
The only exception, and a most notable one, is the work of the late Zoltan
Kodaly, who devoted the greater part of his active life to the musical education
of the young. His principles, though, do not quite conform to those of the
school orchestra movement. He was primarily concerned with singing rather
than with instrumental music, and his views and methods have spread far beyond
his own country. He sacrificed much of his own creative talent in this cause
and wrote hundreds of exercises and part-songs to implement his ideas of
musical education. But apart from this one solitary effort school music has
been neglected by the outstanding composers of our time and, with an artistically
poor repertoire at its disposal, it cannot fill the gap left by the disappearance
of the knowledgeable and technically efficient amateur of yesterday.
Neither pocket-scores nor school music could prevent a sharp decline in the
sheet-music trade. If the new methods of listening to music had not come
to his rescue with records, record-players, radio and television sets and
tape-recorders the dealer might have disappeared altogether. There are already
countries where one has to travel far to find a man who bothers to stock
sheet music. As a consequence, print numbers are much smaller than is generally
realized. Although printers are busy they are printing more titles in smaller
quantities than fifty years ago. The publisher's problem then was to print
large quantities economically and offset printing came as a welcome aid.
The problem now is to determine the smallest quantities which can still be
printed at a price which will not be prohibitive.
This applies to popular as well as serious music. Before the Second World
War, when sales had already declined seriously, hit songs still enjoyed a
wide circulation. If the amateur could no longer cope with Brahms he could
still deal adequately with 'Valencia' or 'The Lambeth Walk'. Prints of half
a million copies of a smash hit were not unusual. A few thousand records
were sold, too, which was welcome if financially unimportant. This situation
has now been reversed. A top hit today sells a million or more records, while
only a few thousand printed copies find their way to the public. Orchestrations
of hits, which were once in great demand, are now hardly ever printed. In
most cases a 'conductor' part is enough for any dance-band to use as a basis
for improvisation. There can be no question of any sale. Dance-bands have
no standard composition which would make printed orchestrations useful.
Broadcasters employing a considerable number of bands insist on variety of
sound and style to such an extent that the same pop tune played by two different
bands is hardly recognizable. Therefore no more is needed than a hint, in
the shape of a conductor part, which is usually given away free by the publisher.
As far as serious music is concerned almost all the music destined for
music-making in the home has become unsaleable. Songs, instrumental and chamber
music are to all intents and purposes dead. There are few editions of the
most famous classical and romantic works still in print, and new works in
these categories have no hope of becoming known. A few years ago French
publishers approached their Ministry of Fine Arts for a subsidy for the printing
of contemporary music. Enclosed with their application was a list from which
one learnt with dismay that an outstanding piano work by one of the most
prominent composers of our time had sold only eight hundred copies in seventeen
years, a piano sonata by a young and very promising composer only a single
copy in one year, and the vocal score of an internationally successful opera
only twentyfour copies. The Ministry declined any subsidy, and, I believe,
rightly so. It would have made printing easier, or at any rate possible,
but would have contributed nothing to the sales. This music could not be
sold at the price of a bus-ticket. One has to realize that a wide and once
highly cultivated and fertile area of musical life has been laid waste. Songs,
instrumental and chamber music were the happy children of very personal and
widely practised music-making. With the disappearance of this practice they,
too, inevitably disappeared.
Orchestral scores of works by prominent composers are printed in quantities
of 200 or 250 copies, and this is usually sufficient for many years. If the
composer is not well known 50 copies will often suffice, the majority of
which are given away. Pocket- or studyscores of new works by well-known composers
are printed in quantities ranging from 500 to 1,000 copies, and some even
enjoy a reprint of 500 copies, which in most cases marks the virtual end
of their career. But even pocket-scores of the established old master-works
drag their feet and the publisher is often tempted to let them run out of
This, I believe, is one of the most momentous changes within the art itself.
I have mentioned before that the amateur musician of yesterday has become
the passive listener and, to a lesser degree, the passive reader of today.
It is a grotesque thought that this listener or reader will never comprehend
a work of music on his own account; that an interpreter will always stand
between him and it. Until the turn of the century or thereabouts it was the
glory of music-of every type of music-to become the personal property of
those who loved it. Now it has become a large inanimate object to be exhibited
to an enormous, passive audience. And if, for lack of personal contact, the
knowledge of older music becomes more and more superficial, new music hardly
ever penetrates to the public consciousness at all.
Masterpieces have been written in the last fifty years which receive more
performances than Beethoven's symphonies could boast in their time. Stravinsky's
Rite of Spring or Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra are played hundreds of
times every year in every corner of the world, and every concert-goer must
have heard them over and over again. Thousands of records and study-scores
are in circulation. Should the present-day music-lover not know them as well
as his predecessor fifty years ago knew the symphonies of Brahms? Yet how
many are there who could whistle even one motive or play it with one finger
on the piano? If, on hearing it again, they recognize the work they can be
truly proud of themselves. Again, is the general knowledge of Berg's Wozzeck
comparable with the knowledge of Wagner's Ring at the beginning of this century?
It is certainly true that music has become very complicated. Yet I wonder
whether Wozzeck, forty years after its premiere, is more difficult for us
than Tristan was at the beginning of this century. Contemporaries always
found new music too difficult. There were a confusing number of notes in
Mozart's Entfuhrung; Beethoven's Violin Concerto was considered unplayable;
it was said that Parsifal could not be learnt by heart and, therefore, could
not be performed. Has new music really become more complicated than modern
science, which is understood by its students as readily as our generation
understood the simpler physics of Newton and the chemistry of Lavoisier?
Complication is not the real trouble; this lies in the fact that the average
cultured man or woman looks not for knowledge but for information, quick
and comfortable information which is the true purpose of mass education.
It is information and not knowledge which broadcasting scatters abroad over
countries and continents; and for such information new music, like new science,
is too complicated. On average we are much less educated than our fathers
were half a century ago. They knew more about the technicalities and physical
principles of the telephone and telegraph than we know about sound broadcasting
and television, or about biology and chemistry, which today have become almost
inaccessible to the layman. This ought not to apply to any art, and particularly
not to music.
But it does. In spite of the omnipresence and fantastic quantity of serious
music flooding our daily life it recedes to the periphery of our consciousness.
How music, removed from living re-creation by the millions for whom it is
destined, can flourish only the future will show. The absence of personal
participation, however, uncovers one of the roots of the problem which threatens
our serious new music today.
Since the disappearance of the amateur musician and, with him, of the sales
of sheet music, public performance has become the principal purpose of
music-performance in the theatre and concert-hall, on sound and television
broadcasting, in dance-halls, restaurants, bars and night-clubs, live or
from discs and tapes, as background in films, as salesman for a wide range
of non-musical objects such as food, detergents, drink and cigarettes. Indeed,
this most 'useless' art has developed an astonishing usefulness, and it is
for the publisher to find-within the limits of respectability-all the wide
gaps and the little crannies through which music flows or oozes into daily
life. Though music can no longer provide its creators and their agents with
a living in the old legitimate way it has become capable of great commercial
achievements. No other art has, in fact, been so commercialized. Money is
the yardstick by which its success and, occasionally, its value are measured.
Once created, published and publicized a work of music, whatever its nature,
must make money or it fails utterly.