Thursday, October 25, 2007

IMSLM has a life line - sort of....

Michael has posted good but, alas, not great news on IMSLM. Project Gutenberg will come to rescue - but only as far as it can go under US law.

If the Project Gutenberg archive has to abide by USA law to host the IMSLM Project, then it won’t be able to post, for example, some of Arnold Schoenberg’s (September 13, 1874 – July 13, 1951) scores because the USA has irrationally committed itself to a life + 70 years term. However, note that scores published pre 1923 are OK even in the USA..

Schoenberg, along with Stravinsky ((June 17, 1882 – April 6, 1971), was one of the handful of most influential composers of the last 100 years. When the dust finally settles on 20th century music, it will likely be one or the other of them that are considered as “the” most influential in terms of “serious” music.

Stravinsky’s copyright story is a book unto itself, yet to be written, because many of his greatest works were first published in Russia at such an early date that they are in the public domain (because of Russia’s non adherence in those days to any relevant IP treaties) - though there have been several revisions since of some of his early works which try to reconsecrate virginal copyright status in the Berne and Universal Copyright Convention worlds. Stravinsky is not published by Universal Edition.

Schoenberg was the architect of “twelve tone” or “serial” music, which is the basis of much of the twentieth century’s music heritage. This twelve tone technique has even found its way into countless works ranging from great works by Elliot Carter to much horrible music by lesser composers, and particularly in countless Hollywood B-Movie and lesser film scores.

It is important that great and not so great composers’ music be made available to the public ASAP in the in countries that have not engaged in the self inflicted wound of life + 70 years of protection. This is how culture evolves. All great composers build on their predecessors. Stravinsky is said to have said that “A good composer does not imitate; he steals.”

Schoenberg’s music is not only extraordinarily important - it’s very beautiful as well, though it’s an admittedly acquired taste still not shared by too many.

The scores of music of this type are dreadfully expensive and very hard to find at all, outside of places like London and New York. What is the point of having the internet and having a life + 50 term if those in Canada and other life + 50 countries cannot enjoy their “users’ rights”?

The early part of the 20th century was an extraordinarily fertile period in Western culture. Its absurd that we have to wait longer and longer to get access to it because of the Mickey Mouse term extension movement.

Maybe it’s time that Project Gutenberg and thought about coming to Canada.

Meanwhile, the IMSLM project should be hosted in Canada by a Canadian university. It would be a terrific teaching and research tool. Canadian law would be very sympathetic.



  1. Dear Sir,

    Yet again, a fascinating, insightful analysis/comment (especially your word on Maestro Stravinsky)

  2. I assume you are referring to Serge Koussevitzky's moving around Edition Russe De Musique/Russian Music Publishing House and Stravinsky pre-1920 works (Koussevitzky and Stravinsky both moved there that same year.)

  3. Actually, I was thinking mainly of the watered down and much less fiery 1945 version of the original 1910 Firebird.

  4. You are so right, this work's copyright story is really convoluted.

    Stravinsky began its composition in Russia in 1909, but wrote most of it in Clarens, Switzerland (he had moved his family there during the summer of 1910). We know it was premiered in Paris on July 10, 1910.

    Now, briefly returning to Moscow in 1909 after a short trip to Berlin, Koussevitzky formed Edition Russe De Musique that same year. So, i guess the publisher's place of business becomes the originating territory as far as copyright term protection is concerned. He did move the company to France later on (in 1920 i believe). But, i do not agree with your statement that "they are in the public domain (because of Russia’s non adherence in those days to any relevant IP treaties)". Stravinsky still passed away in 1971.

    Per the "watered down and much less fiery" revisions. I do not believe they are for copyright purposes (even if some of them were "essentially corrected reprints" as noted by Pieter C. van den Toorn.) As you know, many composers (Mahler and Rachmaninoff for example) constantly made changes to their works.

    Thank You