Notes 57.2 (2000) 367-368
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Music Publishing and Patronage:
C. F. Peters, 1800 to the Holocaust
Music Publishing and Patronage: C. F. Peters, 1800 to the Holocaust. By Irene Lawford-Hinrichsen. Kenton, Middlesex, England: Edition Press, 2000. [xxiv, 332 p. ISBN 0-9536112-0-5. £25.]
C. F. Peters acquired the Leipzig office of the Vienna firm of Hoffmeister & Kühnel in 1814 and died in 1827. His thirteen-year career would be a minor one were it not for his successor, Max Abraham, who in 1867 hit on the series name "Edition Peters," and Abraham's nephew, Henri Hinrichsen, who made these editions synonymous with great music. Their family has managed the firm ever since, through the disasters of World War II and the separation into four firms, in Leipzig, Frankfurt, London, and New York.
The early years are exciting because of work at the parent firm in Vienna with the likes of Beethoven, and it is more a bibliographer's delight than a success story. Abraham's vision was informed by a concern for quality as musically conservative as it was commercially sound. Thanks to the counsel of Adolf Dörffel and buoyed by a host of perennial best-sellers--Max Friedländer's Schubert song collections, piano classics edited at first by Louis Köhler, most everything important and not for piano arranged for piano four-hands, chamber music and choral favorites by established masters--the catalog acquired its distinctive character: Peters editions were for musicians to trust and use. The repertory may have been traditional but it was also venerable. The most respected and probably the most lucrative properties were the green-cover arrangements, many acquired from other publishers--Hugo Wolf songs from Heckel, Anton Bruckner after the copyrights had expired, the catalogs of Rieter-Biedermann in 1917 and of Litolff in 1939 just before the roof caved in. For the pink-cover original works, Peters approached the likes of Richard Wagner, Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, and Arnold Schoenberg at one time or another, all of whom settled mostly on other publishers, often after Peters decided that the price was too high. (Mahler's Fifth Symphony, Strauss's Alpine Symphony, and Schoenberg's Five Orchestral Pieces are among the exceptions.) Instead, the catalog featured Edvard Grieg, Hans Pfitzner, Max Reger (a curious saga), and Sigfrid Karg-Elert, and this book has stories of happy relationships to tell about. This account, ending as it does with the Holocaust, stops short of the postwar attempts at a less cautious catalog; the New York imprint in particular reinvented itself by lining up an awesome roster of adventurous American composers, from John Cage to George Crumb with Milton Babbitt, Morton Feldman, Charles Wuorinen, and some Charles Ives and Henry Cowell in between.
The Peters story has been explored several times from different angles. Heinrich Lindlar did a chronological overview (C. F. Peters Musikverlag: Zeittafeln zur Verlagsgeschichte [Frankfurt: Peters, 1967]). Der Bestand Musikverlag C. F. Peters im Staatsarchiv Leipzig (Leipzig, 1970) reflects the labors of Hans-Martin Plesske, the doyen among scholars of Leipzig music publishing, in organizing the firm's archives. A collection of celebratory tributes is somewhat mistitled as An Introduction to Music Publishing (New York: Peters, 1981). There are also the periodicals, from the great Jahrbuch der Musikbibliothek Peters (Leipzig: Peters, 1894-1940; its successor is the Deutsches Jahrbuch der Musikwissenschaft) to the imaginative Hinrichsen's Musical Yearbook (London: Hinrichsen Edition, 1944-61) and annual music calendars. With a story as rich and well known as this one, this brief bicentennial account is hardly the "definitive history" it claims to be. It is in fact a history less of the firm than of the family, as told here by Henri's granddaughter. The hype and name-dropping one would expect in a corporate "house history" are here, but we also have personal tales, documented in the archives. The book rather reminds me of Buddenbrooks, and if it is told by a lesser narrator than Thomas Mann, it is also an account...