Music and the Book Trade from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century

By Woodhouse, Susi | Fontes Artis Musicae, October-December 2009 | Go to article overview

Music and the Book Trade from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century


Woodhouse, Susi, Fontes Artis Musicae


Music and the Book Trade from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century. Edited by Robin Myers, Michael Harris and Giles Mandelbrote. (Publishing Pathways Series) New Castle, Delaware and London, England : Oak Knoll Press and The British Library, 2008. [256 p. ISBN 978-1-58456245-0/978--07123-5030-3. $49.95/25.00[pounds sterling]]

This is an engaging, enjoyable, and enlightening volume. It brings together papers given at the 30th Annual Conference on Book Trade History in 2007, which looked at different aspects of the music publishing industry.

As one would expect from this group of distinguished musicologists and bibliographers, papers are well written, impeccably researched, and present their arguments with clarity. One leaves each topic wanting to discover more and with a renewed enthusiasm for a subject with a rich and endlessly fascinating history.

The volume as a whole provides the reader with a greater appreciation of the social, political and economic context which dictated different developmental paths for music publishing in different parts of Europe. The individual papers explore topics reaching from late sixteenth-century Spain and Portugal through eighteenth-century London to early twentieth-century Vienna, and the volume closes with a delightful vignette of the Gerald Coke Handel Collection by Katharine Hogg, which is housed at the Foundling Museum, the venue for the conference.

A few words on each of the papers should provide more than enough to whet the appetite.

Iain Fenlon's opening paper 'Music Printing and the Book Trade in Late-Seventeenth and Early-Eighteenth Century Iberia' brings with it a reminder that global economic recession is not a twenty-first-century phenomenon. It was an important factor, along with an absence of the right skills, accounting for the modest output of published music in Iberia and the area's reliance, instead, on imports. The picture in England was very different, and Jeremy L. Smith's account of Byrd and the East music publishing firm a hundred years earlier in his essay 'Turning a new leaf' provides a fascinating insight into the symbiosis between the composer and his publisher, each using the other for their own purposes and working during a period fraught with religious division.

A different kind of relationship is discussed in Richard Luckett's paper 'The Playfords and the Purcells': that of the effect of the keen business acumen displayed by the Playfords (Henry and son John) in publishing the music of Purcell, capitalizing on his popularity to promote their own business. The paper also presents an assessment of the significance of Orpheus Britannicus, published by Playford in 1698 as a posthumous tribute to the composer. The Playfords and Handel's publishers, the Walshes, each had their businesses near the Strand in London, conveniently placed for both Westminster and the City. In his essay, 'John Walsh and his Handel Editions', Donald Burrows builds a fascinating picture of the relationship between Handel and the Walshes who were to become his 'official' publishers (inverted commas as Handel was not averse to doing deals with others). …

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