Beethoven and Wagner′s publisher: 250 years of Schott Music | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 18.06.2020
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Beethoven and Wagner's publisher: 250 years of Schott Music

Beethoven was a godsend for the Schott music publishing company; Wagner was a challenge, but he still brought in money. The publisher continues to encourage and support contemporary and international composers.

"The publishing house of publishing houses" — that's what Schott Music is also called, which gives publishing director Peter Hanser-Stecker great pride. "In our anniversary year, we are pleased to welcome 50 publishing houses, including historical ones, that now belong to the Schott Group and that have found a new publishing home here," he said. 

Schott Music is the leading music and music book publisher in Germany, with international subsidiaries worldwide. More than 400 music publishers belong to the German Music Publishers Association (DMV), and about 130 are dedicated to classical or "serious" music.

Among them is the oldest music publisher in the world, Breitkopf & Härtel, a firm that had 18th-century composer Johann Sebastian Bach under contract.

"From an international perspective, Germany has the most traditional music publishing culture," says DMV managing director Birgit Böcher. "Even today, German music publishers are among the most internationally recognized when it comes to the paper business."

Beethoven was a godsend

Founded in 1770 by music engraver and clarinetist Bernhard Schott, the Schott publishing house is one of the most traditional publishing houses in the industry; it's now in its sixth generation of family ownership.

The publishing house owes its great breakthrough at the beginning of the 19th century to Ludwig van Beethoven, whose 250th birthday is celebrated this year. Schott published the world-famous composer's Missa Solemnis as well as the Ninth Symphony.

Room with shelves on the right and left, stacked with boxes

The Schott archives house musical gems

"We were Beethoven's 32nd and last publishers," Schott spokeswoman Christiane Albiez told DW. He was tough to negotiate with, and publishing a piece like the Ninth Symphony with its symphonic scale and singing was certainly a risk back then, she says. At the time, one could not foresee what a quantum leap the symphony would be.

Branches worldwide

The Schott publishing house was quick to establish itself on the international stage, too. At the beginning of the 19th century, Schott had branches in Brussels, Paris and London; in 1840, the publishing house opened offices in Sydney and Melbourne. Today, Schott operates in the most important international markets with offices in London, Madrid, New York, Tokyo and Beijing.

"Internationalization — that was one of the most important issues for me," says Hanser-Strecker, who has been a member of the publishing house's management for more than 45 years. "When I entered management at the publishing house, the first thing I did was to open two offices, one in New York and one in Tokyo."

Peter Hanser-Strecker (Schott Music)

Peter Hanser-Strecker

Japanese and Chinese music-lovers value western classical music. Beethoven's music paved the way for the Beijing office. "When composers in China heard that we re-published the Ninth Symphony, they said that was where they, too, wanted to be published," says Hanser-Strecker. "That made it easier for us, and in this respect we are very happy."

Schott Music employs about 200 people worldwide, 30 of them in its international offices. "With our various offices abroad we try to get to know the musical voices of other societies and cultures and integrate them into our portfolio," says Christiane Albiez, adding that still plays an important role in the company's philosophy today. Albiez is responsible for performance rights and licenses on the management board.

Framed painiting of Bernhard Schott (Schott Music)

Bernhard Schott founded the company

Contemporary composers play a large role

From day one, Schott has worked with contemporary composers. "The success story of a publishing house is always measured by the success of its composers," says Albiez. Without the composers, the firm's 250-year success story would have been inconceivable, she adds.

One of the composers who contributed most to Schott's success was Richard Wagner. "Wagner confronted Schott publishing with previously unknown challenges: He wanted an advance on works not yet written and not even conceived for an opera house not yet built, namely Bayreuth," says Albiez. He demanded the publisher pay him sums completely unheard of at the time, she says.

But his success proved him right and also filled the Schott publishing house's coffers. Wagner remained loyal to the publishing house throughout his life and had his entire compositional oeuvre published by Schott.

Paul Hindemith and Carl Orff were among the most influential 20th-century composers. Schott published the entire Orff Approach used in music education. Meanwhile, his instructions for a playful handling of instruments have been translated into 36 languages worldwide, which is according to Hanser-Strecker a vastly important educational tool. Chinese schools are currently debating whether to introduce the approach. "Many institutions there have already introduced Orff-style teaching without it actually being Orff," he says.

Large building with gardens, Schott Music in Mainz (Schott Music)

Schott Music headquarters in Mainz

Jubilees in coronavirus times

In addition to musical scores, texts for singing teachers and vocal coaches and books to teach an instrument, Urtext editions, concert and opera literature, the publishing house also sells music books, trade journals and sound storage mediums as well as covering all areas of music via e-books and apps.

Music education is particularly dear to Peter Hanser-Strecker's heart: "This has been an important issue for me all my life: We have to start at the source in order to educate the audience, the future listeners and the musicians well."

Portrait Richard Wagner (Schott Söhne)

Richard Wagner turned out to be a challenge for the publishers, albeit a lucrative one

Accordingly, the Strecker Foundation tries to give children from socially disadvantaged families a voice in the truest sense of the word. "Singing is a wonderful opportunity, especially for children from immigrant families, to bring along their own songs and show their own identity," Hanser-Strecker says, adding that song promotes mutual understanding and cohesion in class.

To celebrate its anniversary this year, the publishing house is donating €250,000 ($281,000) to the nationwide 2020 "Singing is Great" school project.

Schott, too, was hard-hit by the coronavirus crisis. Revenues collapsed, and the company is still trying to figure out how to absorb the blow, says Christiane Albiez. All the same, on the occasion of the anniversary the publisher re-edited gems from its sheet music archive in the "Joy of Music" series, and is publishing "The Schott Music Group: 250 years of publishing history." 

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