Thursday, April 27, 2006

New music scores with free downloads

Free MP3 downloads of classical music receive much attention, but a pioneering project using free downloads has been overlooked, and it may just be an important tool for contemporary composers as it offers free downloads of scores of specially commissioned new works.

New Music is a series of pieces for choir and organ specially commissioned from young composers by Choir & Organ magazine. In each bi-monthly issue a composer is profiled together with an analysis of his new composition. Unlimited copies of the composition can then be downloaded as pdf files from the Choir & Organ website via this link. The current magazine (May/June 2006) offers Chimera for organ by Matthew Martin, and the Antiphon to Mary by Basil Athanasiadis is also available.

Control of intellectual property ownership is attempted by the licensing small-print which says: 'New Music scores are available under license to be printed free of charge for a period of six months, after which time copies must be destroyed as copyright reverts to the composer. Further copies can then be ordered direct from the composer or publisher (see score for details)'.


There are some distinguished precedents for promoting new music via magazine giveaways. Tchaikovsky wrote Les saisons (The Seasons) from December 1875 to November 1876 at the request of N. M. Bernard, the editor of the Nuvellist, a St. Petersburg monthly music magazine. The composer contributed a 'season' per month, with the sheet music being given away with the magazine.

It remains to be seen as to how many performances will be achieved by the New Music project; but even it if it just one doesn't that make it worthwhile? And I have some doubts as to how effective the voluntary six month 'destroy' clause will be - as the record companies have discovered to their cost it is remarkably difficult to turn sausages back into pigs. But Choir & Organ's New Music initiative is to be heartily applauded. We need innovations like this to bring deserving new music to appreciative audiences, not the BBC's self-serving PR exercises with Wagner and Beethoven downloads.

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For more like this take An Overgrown Path to What exactly is a 'classic'?

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am totally positive about the idea of a young composer getting exposure by having his/her music available for download. In fact, it's not often that we "professional" composers make all that much money from "sales," and I could bet that 99% of us would take a performance in some far-off place (which resulted from media exposure like this) over a small residual (from sales) any day.

I only have one complaint: it seems that the website offers the pdf file of the composition, but if you want to know about the composer,you must buy the magazine. Maybe I am mistaken, but I found it difficult to locate biographical info about the two young composers featured. I think it would be a huge shame if this led to miscommunications or confusion or misrepresentation.

David Toub said...

I'm very much in favor of freely downloadable scores as well as audio files. But I'm less enchanted with the idea that one has to destroy the score after six months due to copyright restrictions. This is not terribly useful. I've been making my music available in full, scores and MP3s, for free on my site for quite some time, and the sky hasn't fallen. Indeed, it's created more interest in my music than when I did not have a Web presence.

Music is more than art, it is also information. And like medical journals, physics data, etc., it deserves to be freely disseminated and shared.