|The celebrated iron gate to Edition Peters' Leipzig headquarters|
While we were in Leipzig the other week, we went to visit the historic headquarters of Edition Peters. After long hauls in various directions across the length of the 20th century, the company finally came back to the city three years ago and was reinstated in the building designed for it by Gottfried Semper, under the restored ownership of the heirs of the Hinrichsen family. There's a flat in the same building that was designated for Grieg's use. Linda Hawken, the company's managing director, showed us around and talked us through some of the history. And as that history encompasses Grieg, Mahler, Schoenberg, the horrors of the Third Reich, the regime of the DDR and the fall of the Berlin Wall, it really needs a book to itself (in fact, it has some - do read this and this, both by Irene Lawford-Hinrichsen).
This week marks the 150th anniversary of the iconic green cover we all know and love - if it ain't broke, don't fix it - so here is my interview with Linda. Happy birthday, dear Peters!
|An autumn day in Leipzig...|
JD: Linda, tell us about this anniversary?
LH: The 150th anniversary is of the launch of the iconic green cover design for which everyone knows EP. It’s not only a great design, but it also revolutionised music publishing, because for the first time music was produced on a rotary press, so music was a fifth of the price of any other publisher. This is the big message about Peters: we were responsible for making music affordable for all. So it was a major revolution in the industry. That was in 1867.
Before that the company had passed through many different hands. It was founded in 1800 as a music shop, then they started publishing. CF Peters only had the company for 13 years, but the next owner, Böhme, stipulated in his will that the company should always have the name C F Peters in perpetuity. So that’s why we always kept hold of the name. In 1863 Max Abraham came into the firm. He wasn’t by training a musician but he could see the wonderful potential of the firm – he was a business visionary.
JD: Leipzig became an incredibly important centre for all manner of reasons...?
LH: Yes, one of the company's advantages was Leipzig itself: the musical connections historically are truly extraordinary. For many years the company was actually based in Mendelssohn’s house – his family lived upstairs and the company was on the ground floor. It’s a really lovely connection for us. The Bach connection has always been incredibly important, too: the first serious Bach editions were produced by Peters.
This was a hugely important trading city and the concept of the trade fair was invented here. A lot of the money came from the fur trade, coming from the east. And musically, you can never underestimate the power of the Gewandhaus. It’s an extraordinary history: when you go to a concert now, you’re surrounded by people who regard it as their orchestra. It’s wonderful. The Hochschüle was incredibly important too, founded by Mendelssohn; there was also Schumann nearby, with the Schumann Haus where he wrote some of his greatest works. But most importantly, it was where the publishers were, because of the printing. This was a mecca for books and their production in Germany.
JD: So, Max Abraham...
LH: In 1863 Max Abraham came to the business, saw the potential and came up with the concept of the first practical, affordable editions, with consistency of design and quality, working with the very best editors & scholars of the day. Probably the most important factor for his incredible success is that the printers were here, pushing at the boundaries of technology: Röder invented the rotary press, which was the first time they’d mass-produced music. They launched in 1867 and it was the most outrageous success. They produced a range of music that no other publisher had produced and the rate of success was so good he commissioned Semper to build this incredible building, Talstrasse 10, which is just a total joy to work in.
The important thing about the rotary press is that Max didn’t keep it to himself. He encouraged Breitkopf to come and use it too, because they needed to produce music people can play. So other publishers came and used it: it wasn’t only for Peters, it was opened out to the market.
By the 100th anniversary in 1900, Max Abraham was ill and he handed over to his nephew, Henri Hinrichsen, who was also trained as a lawyer... But the story of how we came to be back in the building is extraordinary – I’ll come back to that!
JD: The relationship with Grieg seems to have been something quite exceptional?
|The salon in Grieg's apartment|
LH: Grieg first came to Leipzig as a young student of 17. From the very beginning Max spotted his genius and there began the most extraordinarily close, unique relationship between publisher and composer. There are over 300 letters documenting it. He had his own apartment in this building: he would come here and compose, he would go on holiday with the Hinrichsens, he went to Bayreuth with them and Abraham paid for the plot of land for Grieg's house at Troldhaugen to be built. The company made so much money from Grieg that Max just kept paying Grieg much much more than he was ever supposed to! It was the Piano Concerto that was the extraordinary success - but also the piano pieces, the Holberg Suite, and more. After Max died in 1900 Henri continued the close relationship, and after Grieg died Henri continued to look after his widow, Nina - apparently she was terrible with money, so they kept making sure she was fine and had an allowance. It’s the closest relationship I know of historically between publisher and composer.
JD: Then there was Schoenberg, plus the saga of Mahler's Symphony No.5?
LH: Past 1900, the international success of the green series is extraordinary. Henri went over to the international world fairs – Chicago, Philadelphia, Paris – and started to make a commitment to contemporary music, the beginnings of serialism. He committed to Schoenberg’s 5 Orchestral Pieces, which was a big risk - but one we benefitted from greatly. And Mahler Five...! If you read the correspondence about the production and the corrections, it’s quite extraordinary, and after the first performance Mahler wanted it all done again! Henri really went with it: he was a passionate believer. He was hemorrhaging money on this work, but he kept going because that’s what publishers tend to do: you commit to something and you keep going.
After that, the relationship with Richard Strauss is interesting - it's documented in Irene's book - and you get the first seeds of the antisemitism which is to lead to Henri’s death...
JD: It was a horrific tragedy...
Photo: Edition Peters website
LH: By 1933 and the first antisemitic laws introduced by the Nazis, Peters was a hugely successful company. So it was one of the first companies they went after to "aryanise". The story is very tragic. Max Hinrichsen, Henri’s eldest son, married a non-Jew. Some of the first legislation was against mixed marriages, so very early on Max and his wife and daughter had to flee. Henri just couldn’t believe what was going on. He found it difficult to forgiuve Max for leaving, because Henri had always said he was German first. he was the chairman of the Music Publishers Association and he was certain he’d be safe. But Max, a younger generation, went to London and founded Peters Edition London, and Walter, the next son, left for New York and founded CF Peters Corporation there. So these three bases in the world which miraculously we still have today, are the result of a terrible history.
Henri stayed in Germany; but the company was taken over by Dr Johannes Petschull, who was a co-director of Schott. Henri was not allowed in the building knowingly but Petschull still used his knowhow and expertise – he was an expert in German copyright law – and he was fighting all the time to retain some of the assets.
Henri and Max, as much as they made money, gave it all away. There was the famous Peters Music Library, an ioncredible archive of letters and facsimiles and scores - it’s in the building just over there... Max and Henri wanted people to come and see the originals. Henri also made incredible philanthropic donations, all his life, to the city of Leipzig. Just along the street is the Henriette Goldschmidt Schule, the first upper school for women in Europe, and that was founded by Henri. He was then barred from going into the school he had founded.
Things deteriorated. Max and Walter were pleading with Henri and his wife Martha to leave - and by the time he decided to do so, it was too late to get to America and allegedly Petschull wouldn’t give them the letters of legality that could allow them to leave. They finally reached Brussels - but Martha, who had diabetes, couldn’t get insulin and she died. Henri after that was on his own in a boarding house. There the Gestapo came for someone else who was out - and they took him. He died in Auschwitz on 17 September 1942 in a gas chamber. The close friend of Grieg.
JD: After the war, there came the DDR...
LH: Walter Hinrichsen was trying to rebuild music in Berlin. He came here and had some discussions with Petschull, who had obviously been a Nazi card-carrier. After the war Walter and Max did a sort of deal with him and allowed him to start a company in West Germany, in Frankfurt. Meanwhile here in Leipzig, this firm became the East German state publishing house. But for decades after that there were difficulties between Frankfurt, London and NY - because Petschull was Petschull.
JD: The same Petschull?
LH: Yes, he died aged 100 in 2001...
Meanwhile the Wall had come down. Petschull closed this company, which left terrible feeling here in Leipzig, because we had really great musicologists here who had done excellent work during the intervening time.
This building was falling down. Then a doctor from Wiesbaden committed to restoring it; he owns it. The London company by that time had passed into the hands of the Hinrichsen Foundation, a charitable foundation. In New York the heirs were the children of Walter, Martha and Henri, and a long project came about to bring the ownership of Peters back to the heirs: in 2010 it was achieved and Edition Peters group was formed, finally in the ownership of the Hinrichsen heirs.
JD: And today you have a vast roster of contemporary music - including the opera Silver Birch that Roxanna Panufnik and I wrote! What have some of the highlights been?
LH: One of them involved Walter signing John Cage – that was a huge risk. (JD: I imagine it must have paid off...) LH: Yes, it’s extraordinary, over 400 works! And George Crumb, Ligeti, Kagel... So contemporary music went on from Schoenberg and became a huge part of the strategy. Rights have to be at the heart of any publishing house.
JD: Who's your most recent signing?
LH: Du Wei, who’s based in Beijing – a hugely talented Chinese woman composer. I met her two years ago and was blown away by her music.
JD: Last but not least, the return to beautiful Leipzig...
LH: In 2014 we closed the Frankfurt company and came back to Leipzig, to the joy of the city council, into this beautifully restored building. So in Germany it’s been very well received that we came back - but nobody really knows the complexity behind that.
Now we’re here, we’re back in this amazing building and operating as a very successful international group. I think Henri would be OK with that.