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Edition Peters: Reflecting the Composer’s Intentions and the Value of Urtext

Guest post by Linda Hawken, MD of Edition Peters Europe, and Kathryn Knight, President of C.F. Peters, USA

Being a music publisher in the 21st century presents many different challenges to those faced by publishers at the beginning of the industry 200 years ago. Nowhere is this better illustrated than at Edition Peters, founded in Leipzig in 1800 – a time when the idea of music copyright was only just starting to be thought about, with no laws in place to protect the composer. Instead, a successful publishing relationship depended solely on a close and ongoing collaboration with the composer.

Edition Peters’ unique history tells one of the most extraordinary stories of the music-publishing world.  The roster of composers with whom Edition Peters worked directly across the 19th century is dizzying, from Beethoven to Grieg and Mahler.

Edition Peters created the first editions of some of the most famous compositions of all time, with those editions being proofread and corrected by the composers themselves long before the concept of “Urtext” was conceived. Yet despite the provenance of these important editions, it became fashionable in the later 20th century to disregard them – and the unique value of the composer’s direct input – in favor of Urtext “interpretations” by musicologists.

The concept of the Urtext only emerged in the early 1930s, devised by musicologists who aimed to get closer to “the composer’s intentions” by reviewing multiple sources. Indeed it was Edition Peters who released one of the very first Urtext editions with its 1933 edition of J. S. Bach’s Inventions and Sinfonias. After the Second World War, other publishers took on this concept, producing their own Urtext editions. However, this led to much confusion about the meaning and significance of the editions, and whether they reflected the composer’s true intentions.

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