Thursday, December 18, 2008

The earth moves. Slowly. But moves all the same.

Universal Edition (hat tip: Alex Ross),  has placed the complete score to Arvo Pärt's new Symphony No.  4  "Los Angeles" online, here.  This is an example of exactly what traditional music publishers should be doing now:  making perusal scores freely available online as study and promotional materials.  The money to be made in publishing is attached to performances, broadcasts, and recordings, through licenses and rentals of large-format bound scores, extracted parts, and other performance materials,  not to sales of study scores.   When a composer assigns work to a publisher (as opposed to doing his or her own publishing), he or she should expect that the publisher promote the work, manage the performance materials, and watch out for licenses.  In return, the composer and publisher split the license fees.  Putting the score out is an excellent form of promotion, addressed directly to musicians and organizers planning programs but, as importantly,  to the larger musical community, for whom the presence of the score is a real sign that the work exists, can be played from and studied and understood as a part of a living repertoire.  New music has too long been a repertoire of obscurities, with standard music history texts loaded with the titles of works you'll never hear (and scores you'll never see), due largely to the lousy delivery system that has been music publishing.  UE's online publication of the Pärt score should create addition interest in advance of the premier, interest that should be profitable to the composer, publisher, and performers as well as to potential critics and audiences. (For example, in local college music classes, instructors can assign both study of the score, concert attendence, and critical reading of any concert reviews.)

This is an especially welcome move following UE's missteps earlier this year with legal threats that temporarily disabled the International Music Score Library Project.  The future of music licencing is likely to be well in the middle ground between traditional publishing arrangements and the copyright-free utopia, so it's nice to learn that an old institution like UE both recognizes and is agile enough to explore this.

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