Friday, December 7th, 2012...10:01 am

You’ve got mail: There’s no business like music business

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TCS 43, half drawers, Gounod, 1867, detail
John M. Ward, recently deceased William Powell Mason Professor of Music emeritus at Harvard University, was fascinated by the business side of music, particularly the relationship between composers and publishers. In the course of pursuing this fascination, he had the opportunity to purchase a large collection of business-related correspondence assembled by Albi Rosenthal, English antiquarian music dealer, which Ward then generously donated to Houghton. This collection is chock-full of letters concerning publication, copyright, performance fees, contracts, receipts, works lists, and other documentation generated by the business of publication.

One letter which particularly caught my eye was no. 76, from Charles Gounod to the English publisher Cramer & Co. Dated 14 February 1866, it concerns the rights in Great Britain for publication and performance of his Roméo et Juliette, soon to be performed in Paris at the Théâtre Lyrique, 27 April 1867. For a man reputed to be retiring of temperament, Gounod had no problem laying down the law! He carefully lists all performance scenarios, as well as the remuneration expected from Cramer for same, including his librettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carré in all stipulations.

MS Thr 518 (76) Page 1

MS Thr 518 (76) Page 2-3

MS Thr 518 (76) Page 4

As this letter is not signed by a representative from Cramer, it was probably a draft used to formulate the official contract. Clearly they all came to an agreement, as Roméo was indeed published by Cramer in 1867, and the first performance in London was given on 11 July 1867 at Covent Garden.

The business details are intriguing for what they teach us about the opera business in 1866 France and England, but what interested me particularly was the style of the letter itself. Its organized, detailed approach seems at odds with the man who at the same time was known to have suffered violent emotional swings, deep depressions, and nervous disorders throughout his life. In this etching by Blanchard after Dubufe published 5 September 1867 (shortly after the premiere of Roméo) we see Gounod gazing at the viewer, surrounded by the attributes of his work. But what do we see of the man? Like the style of his letter, he appears quite controlled. No wild, romantic hair here!

TCS 43 half-drawers Gounod 1867

Gounod eventually gave up writing for the stage and in the last years of his life, turned more and more to his Catholic faith, both personally and musically. His private writings show him to have been a man of intense theological reflection. Yet he composed some of the most ravishing love music ever performed on the stage. This letter and others in our collections show him to have been a motivated, self-disciplined man of business. Could a less complex character have composed Faust?

[Thanks to Andrea Cawelti, Ward Music Cataloger, for contributing this post.]

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