History of music publishing  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search
This page History of music publishing is part of the music series.Illustration: Sheet music to "Buffalo Gals" (c. 1840), a traditional song.Maxim: "writing about music is like dancing about architecture".
This page History of music publishing is part of the music series.
Illustration: Sheet music to "Buffalo Gals" (c. 1840), a traditional song.
Maxim: "writing about music is like dancing about architecture".

Related e



Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

This article outlines the history of music publishing.


Early publishing

Music publishing did not begin on a large scale until the mid-15th century, with the first printing of music. The earliest existence of printed music dates from about 1465, and then only liturgical chants were printed. This date falls shortly after the printing of the Gutenberg Bible and the invention of movable type.

Before the advent of Gutenberg and his printing press, all music was copied out by hand, an expensive and time-consuming process. Consequently, little music prior to the 16th century remains; the majority that is extant is sacred music of the Catholic church. The priests and monks of the church spent large amounts of time painstakingly copying the chants for every day of the church year. We have very little secular music prior to 1500. The collections we do have were owned by wealthy noblemen, such as the Squarcialupi Codex, of Italian Trecento music, or the Chantilly Codex of French Ars subtilior music.

The father of modern music printing was a man named Ottaviano Petrucci, a printer and publisher who flourished in large measure thanks to a twenty-year monopoly of printed music in Venice during the 16th century. His first collection was entitled Harmonice musices odhecaton A, and contained 96 polyphonic compositions, mostly by Josquin des Prez and Heinrich Isaac. Petrucci flourished by publishing mainly Flemish works, rather than Italian, as Flemish works were very popular throughout Europe in the Renaissance. Petrucci used a triple-impression method of printing music, in which a sheet of paper was pressed 3 times. The first impression was the staff lines, the second the words, and the third the notes. This method produced very clean results, though it was time-consuming and expensive.

Around 1520 in England, John Rastell developed a single-impression method for printing music. This method was adopted and used widely by a Frenchman, Pierre Attaingnant. With his method, the staff lines, words, and notes were all part of a single piece of type, making it much easier to produce. However, this method produced messier results, as the staff lines often did not line up exactly and looked wavy on the page. The single-impression method eventually triumphed over Petrucci's, however, and became the dominant mode of printing until copper-plate engraving took over in the 17th century.


Copyright law developed from the earliest monopoly held by Petrucci in Venice, and later a similar monopoly granted by Queen Elizabeth I to William Byrd and Thomas Tallis. Later, King Henry VIII of England passed a law which required copies of all printed matter to be sent to the king and offered protection to printers in the form of licenses. This benefited the king with a new source of revenue. The earliest attempt at printed musical 'copyright' appears in the 'Shir Hashirim' of Salomone Rossi (Venice, 1623) which includes a rabbinical curse on those pirating the text, written by Leon of Modena.

The licensing act of 1662 in England required the printer of every book to print on it a certificate of the licensor, stating that it contained no writing "contrary to the Christian faith, or the doctrine or discipline of the church of England against the state and government of the realm, or contrary to good life or good manners, or otherwise".

It was in 1709 that the Statute of Anne was promulgated, which gave protection of a work initially for a period of 21 years, later extended to 28 years.

In the United States, protecting music initially was not a priority. In 1789 when the first congress of the US passed the first federal copyright law, music was not included. The law was not expanded to include music until 1831. The copyright term for protection was 28 years plus a 14-year renewal period.

France followed with establishing their own copyright law. Soon began a movement for some international accord, which eventually came about at the meeting of Berne in 1886.

The 14 original member states of the Bern union adopted what is referred to as the Berne Convention.

The core of the Convention is its provision that each of the contracting countries shall provide automatic protection for works in other countries of the union and for unpublished works whose authors are citizens of or residents in such other countries.

It is essential to understand that copyright law as it evolved, encompassed not merely the right to print, but the right to collect revenue from all rights including but not limited to performance rights and phonographic rights. As of April 2000, over 76 countries have approved membership in the Bern convention.

Performing rights

While England was the leader in the development of the legal protection of copyright, the honor of the development of the collection of performing rights goes to the French.

In 1777, Beaumarchais founded an organization, "Bureau de legislation Dramatique" which later in 1829 became the Societé des Auteurs et Compositeurs Dramatiques (SACD) pursuant to which theatres agreed to pay playwrights a portion of their takings by the Society.

In 1847, the author Ernest Bourget had the idea of claiming the performing right in the Café Concerts and other establishments which used songs and or musical works. A lawsuit won by Bourget and others led in 1851 to the formation of the Societe des Auteurs, Compositeurs et Editeurs de Musiques (SACEM) – the first performing rights society in the world.

Other countries followed suit. In 1882 the Italian Society SIAE was founded. In 1903 the predecessor society to the current German society GEMA was formed by Richard Strauss in 1903, which became GEMA IN 1915 when it merged with another small society.

Thus by the end of the 19th century virtually all the steps were in place to safeguard the rights of a composer and therefore to render the activity of music publishing a viable business.

Music publishing

Through the 19th century increasing urbanization, the possibility of mass circulation of cheap printed materials, and the rapid growth of music hall and vaudeville led to the development of modern music publishing.

Technology would add the final ingredient – lithography, which was invented in Germany in 1798. Music could now be mass-produced more cheaply than by the conventional method of engraved plates. The scene was set for the commercial explosion of popular music.

Germany, following the great outpouring of German music in the 18th and 19th centuries, was the birthplace of modern music publishing.

German publishing

In the 18th Century, the great German music publishing enterprises came into being. Breitkopf of Leipzig was the first significant name. He was a printer and general publisher and became a music printer in 1754. His business success was largely founded on improvements in the setting of music type. Hartel joined the firm in 1795 and then began the publication of the great series of the complete works of various composers for which the house is still famous, including Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann and Wagner. Breitkopf and Hartel were original publishers of Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt and Wagner, complete editions of Bach, Schutz, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann, also Furtwangler and Hindemith.

Schott Music of Mainz was founded in 1770 and still exists today. They published French and Italian operas (Donizetti, Rossini), and later such authors as Hindemith, Stravinsky, Orff, Schoenberg, Henze & Wagner.

Simrock of Bonn and later Berlin was established in 1790. Their original authors were Beethoven, Haydn, Meyerbeer, Weber, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms. Firms were soon founded including Artaria of Vienna 1765-1932, the original publisher of Mozart.

In 1810 Adolf Martin Schlesinger founded his publishing house in Berlin, and became publisher to (amongst others) Beethoven, Carl Maria von Weber and Felix Mendelssohn. His son Maurice founded a branch of the firm in Paris, publishing amongst others the works of Liszt, Berlioz, Fromental Halevy and Giacomo Meyerbeer.

Musikverlag Josef Weinberger of Frankfurt was founded in 1885 in Vienna. They published operettas by Kalman, Lehar, Offenbach, Stolz, Strauss and others. One can see from the large number of music publishing houses which were founded in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Germany advanced quickly to the top of the music publishing world.

United States

Template:Cleanup In 1764, Paul Revere Josiah Flagg compiled the first collection of popular and religious music, printed on paper made in the colonies. The post-revolutionary period was notable for advancing the music industry when the first professional music publishers migrated from Europe in the 1770’s, opening shops in Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Baltimore, bringing with them European technology.

In the first quarter of the 19th century alone, 10,000 pieces of popular music were printed by US publishers. The industry did not promote music or develop writers. Songs became popular with virtually no promotion. By and large, most minstrel troupes and singing personalities wrote their own music or had songs written to order. This was all changed by the young men entering the business from other fields, many from humble origins with no experience in publishing, but with energy and innovative ideas, all of which they were to focus on publishing the American popular song.

Prior to the 1880s, popular music publishing was a subsidiary function of music stores or “serious music” publishers. After 1880, song promotion developed, or what early Tin Pan Alley publishers would soon call “plugging”.

By 1900, music publishers were making the move from their home on 14th St. to 28th St. (between 6th Ave and Broadway) “Tin Pan Alley” in order to be closer to the thriving entertainment center of the day.

The amount of music produced by Tin Pan Alley were voluminous. The first decade of the 20th century boasted the highest production of popular music in history, some 25,000 songs annually. In 1893, the song “After the Ball” sold one million copies in America and, in the next ten years, went on to sell a total of ten million.

Despite the enactment of new U.S. copyright legislation, including the 1891 Chace Act which allowed for the international protection of copyrights, the provisions of the 1909 copyright act had been generally ignored. in 1914, ASCAP (q.v.) was formally organized to license the performances of songs.

Modern technology

The invention of the gramophone heralded a new form of music publishing, marketing the recorded performance of music.

Initially, popular music was slow to take advantage of the new recordings and in 1910, more than 75% of the records sold were classical music. During the first quarter of the 20th century, sheet music was still king and publishers and composers depended primarily on the sale of sheet music for their revenues.

However, sheet sales declined while records were still providing inadequate income to compensate for this loss. This led to short lived but serious economic problems for some publishers.

In 1927, after the advent of The Jazz Singer (the first talkie) motion picture, the need for music led movie studios to buy music publishing companies, gaining both catalogues of music and experienced composers at the same time. For example, in 1929, Warners paid 10 million dollars for Harms, Witmark and Remick; MGM bought Leo Feist, Robbins and some smaller companies; Paramount started Famous Music.

The post WW2 period resulted in such innovations as the jukebox and microgroove recording, which brought the LP record.

The 1980’s also saw the emergence of more new technology (satellite transmissions - CDs) and new outlets (cable).

Through the 90’s, these new formats (especially CDs) generated strong growth for the music publishing industry.

With the Internet era (starting in 1994) sheet music publishers are taking place on the Internet proposing digital sheet music for instant download to a wider audience by making sheet music available easily and cheaply.


Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Printing and publishing of music

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "History of music publishing" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools