The German states

Throughout Chopin’s lifetime the states within the Deutscher Bund (German Confederation) had no common legislation affording copyright protection to authors; nevertheless, the Verein der deutschen Musikalienhändler (Union of German Music Sellers) exercised a certain supervisory control over music publishing after its establishment in Leipzig in May 1830.[1] The absence of legislation by no means prevented the market from operating effectively in these states. In the case of Chopin’s editions, apart from one suspect instance identified by Maurice Brown (though unverified to date),[2] the German publishers behaved appropriately towards each other.

The creation of the Verein was not the only initiative to be taken with regard to the protection of authors’ rights: between 1827 and 1829, Prussia signed accords with thirty-three states within the Confederation in order to effect reciprocal protection. It was also the first to promulgate its own legislation in this respect. A law from 1837 defined the conditions surrounding the protection of artistic works, whereby copyright lasted until thirty years after the author’s death. In 1844 Prussia extended protection to foreign authors living outside the Confederation states themselves, provided that the same guarantees were offered to Prussian citizens who wished to publish works in the foreign countries in question. One concrete outcome of this development was the treaty signed with England in 1846.

The fact that legal deposit was not required in the German states markedly contrasts with the position in France and England. German music publishers were nevertheless obliged to provide the Verein with a copy of their editions, to be registered in the institution’s archives. Once this formality had been completed, the newly registered scores were retained in the archive for one year before being returned to their owners. The release of new editions was announced in the musical press as well as in specialist periodicals such as the Musikalisch-literarischer Monatsbericht (MlM), in essence reproducing the content of the archive’s registers.

It should be pointed out that, in signing contracts with his German publishers, Chopin ceded to them the rights to his works in all countries except France and Great Britain.[3] Thanks to the extensive commercial foothold of these publishers and also the especially long period of copyright protection, the German editions held a privileged position relative to those from other countries, thus explaining their abundance in this catalogue.

The year 1879 marked the entry of Chopin’s works into the public domain in Germany as well as the beginning of the end for the German first editions[4] of his music. The release in 1878–80 of Breitkopf & Härtel’s complete edition, prepared by Bargiel, Brahms, Franchomme, Liszt, Reinecke and Rudorff, precipitated the disappearance from the market of the publisher’s Chopin first editions except that of the Sonata Op. 65. Similarly, Carl Mikuli’s 1879 edition prompted the withdrawal from commercial sale of Kistner’s existing Chopin material. Only Schlesinger (R. Lienau), Hofmeister and probably also Schuberth continued to market their original Chopin output beyond that date, but in parallel to the new prints.

[1] Publishers in Austria as well as those in Lombardy-Venetia – which until 1865 was ruled by the Austrian Empire – also belonged to the Verein. Apart from 2–1-HAt, the formula indicating that a given score had been registered at the Verein’s archives can be found on the title pages of all Chopin editions released during the composer’s lifetime in Vienna and Milan – namely, 2–2-HAt, 3–1-ME, 43–1-RI, 44–1-ME, 45–1a-ME, 50–1-ME, HEX–1-HAt and HEX–1-RI. On the TP of the last of these there is an additional indication that the edition had been deposited in the Bibliothèque impériale. As for the works published posthumously in Milan in 1851, the TPs bear only the Habsburg coat of arms (see 4–1-RI, VGNA–1-RI). References here to ‘the German states’ include Austria unless otherwise indicated.

[2] See Brown 1972: 44. Brown refers to an edition of the Polonaise Op. 3 ostensibly released by A. M. Schlesinger in 1832, but he provides no information about it nor does he address the rights issues that would have surrounded the edition. Given that the work was first published in Vienna by Mechetti, A. M. Schlesinger’s putative edition could only have been a pirated version if it existed at all.

[3] This information can be deduced from the contracts that Chopin signed with Breitkopf & Härtel, which make particular reference to the extent of the rights given that this publisher distributed its output to numerous European countries via a sophisticated network of sales agents. The list of countries can be found in von Hase and von Hase 1968: i/198.

[4] We use this term to refer to all first editions in the strict sense, later impressions thereof (whether revised or not) and all later editions bearing the original plate numbers. For further discussion see the Introduction as well as the Glossary.