Fit To Print: A “Hyperhistory” of the Current State of American Music Publishing

Fit To Print: A “Hyperhistory” of the Current State of American Music Publishing

They have an avocado tree in their rental library – and it’s in Manhattan! While several of Boosey and Hawkes‘s (B&H) competitors in the music-publishing field have maintained offices in New York City, most have bowed to the pressure of exorbitant Gotham leases and moved their space-intensive rental operation out to the suburbs, or even upstate. B&H has defied this trend, boldly absorbing the cost of preserving a completely integrated publishing facility under one Manhattan roof, in the firm belief that having a user-friendly, conveniently-located space is worth the investment. If the coveted southern exposure and the robust botanical activity is conducive to brainstorming and increases the frequency of “drop in” visits by composers, performers, and artistic planners, it is money well spent.

The Boosey & Hawkes group originated from the merger in 1930 of two companies, each with its own musical traditions. Boosey & Company, founded in the 1760s and Hawkes & Son, founded in 1865, were both engaged in publishing and instrument manufacture. Today the Boosey & Hawkes Group is a highly respected organization, international in scope and unique in spanning both music publishing and musical instruments. B&H is a publicly traded company on the London Stock Exchange, and as such is accountable to its shareholders, divulging more financial information than privately held firms. In a speedy global business environment, B&H has fought hard for its success in an artistic field that emphasizes long range development of composers, and requires significant up-front investment.

Yet, the strength of the B&H catalogue argues persuasively for this philosophy. In addition to administering the copyrights on defining works from the first half of the 20th Century by composers such as Bartók, Bernstein, Britten, Copland, Martinu, Prokofieff, Rachmaninoff, Richard Strauss and Igor Stravinsky, B&H (ASCAP) and their BMI-imprint Hendon Music have exclusive relationships with many notable contemporary composers, including Americans such as John Adams, Dominick Argento, Jack Beeson, Elliott Carter, David Del Tredici, Carlisle Floyd, Barbara Kolb, Benjamin Lees, Steven Mackey, Steve Reich, Ned Rorem, Christopher Rouse and Michael Torke. Boosey and Hawkes additionally represents several other American composers as the agent for Ricordi (Tod Machover and Dan Locklair), and the Leonard Bernstein Music Publishing Company (Tobias Picker). (B&H is currently the agent for a long list of other firms as well including Barry, Carisch, Dilia, Divertimento, Editio Musica Budapest, Faber Music, AB Carl Gehrmans Musikforlag, Casa Ricordi/BMG Ricordi, Ricordi München, Warner Chappell Music Finland Oy, Warner Chappell Music Norway, Warner Chappell Music Scandinavia, Josef Weinberger Ltd., and Edizioni Suvini Zerboni.)

Linda Golding, President of B&H’s New York office, characterizes the B&H-composer relationships as “full service.” This is unusual in that the company shepherds all aspects of the composers’ output from early in a work’s creation, through to when it enters the public domain. Composers join the Boosey & Hawkes roster at varying stages of their career – some when they are virtually unknown in the musical marketplace, others when they are acknowledged leaders in the field.

The decision to bring a composer to the roster is one that is described by Jennifer Bilfield, Director of Serious Music in New York, as “glacial, at times with materials circulating globally between the affiliates over a period of many months.” Hence, many composers have progressed well past the cradle stage before they begin to benefit from the powerful and globally integrated promotional skills that B&H has to offer. B&H publishes a newsletter three times annually that goes out to 15,000 decision makers throughout North America, and devotes much energy towards maintaining personal relationship with members of the media and with many of the key artistic planners at orchestras and other performing arts organizations.

A good example of the promotional strength of B&H is the two-year planning effort that led up to the 90th birthday celebrations for Elliott Carter that took place around the world in 1999. Capitalizing on good relationships in the press, B&H reminded people about the august stature of a composer who had personally witnessed 90% of the 20th Century. B&H also helped link a huge number of people – record companies, performers, ensembles and administrators – who wanted to recognize this milestone and pay tribute to Carter. The celebration was also an occasion for cooperation between two publishing houses that are sometimes cast into competitive roles. In order to publish a single volume containing the complete string quartets of Carter required, Boosey & Hawkes and Associated Music Publishers, Inc. each brought to the project quartets in which they each held copyrights: B&H the later quartets, AMP the earlier works. In a heartening display of artist-centered thinking, the two publishing houses came together to co-publish an elegant edition that united the works for the first time.

B&H’s “Copland 2000” initiative has also been the scene of furious activity and planning, as a number of prominent arts organizations have focused their attentions on the music of Aaron Copland in celebration of his Centenary. Some highlights of the Copland Celebration include The New York Philharmonic‘s Completely Copland Festival in November 1999, the National Symphony Orchestra‘s performances of Copland’s Third Symphony on tour, a performance of Fanfare for the Common Man as part of the New Year’s Eve Millennium celebration at Times Square, numerous events and performances in London later this year, and an 18-month festival in Hartford entitled The Copland Century involving a consortium of 15+ organizations.

B&H’s user-friendly Manhattan office serves as a nexus for creative ideas. If an artistic administrator from a major North American orchestra drops in one afternoon with an interest in the violin concerto of John Adams, she might leave with a list of 23 different ways in which the piece has been programmed at other orchestras around the country. An expressed curiosity about “something new” might earn her an introduction to the music of Steve Mackey, complete with perusal scores and a guided hour or two of focused listening. The contemporary American composers at B&H benefit from being listed side by side with Bartók, Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff, coupled with an environment that encourages new learning and fosters creativity.

From Fit To Print: A “Hyperhistory” of the Current State of American Music Publishing
by John Robinson
© 2000 NewMusicBox

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

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