Interview by the Belgian special interest magazine “Crescendo” with the programme director at G. Henle Publishers
August 27, 2019. The Belgian music magazine “Crescendo” interviewed our head of publishing, Dr. Norbert Gertsch, also deputy managing director, on the philosophy, focus points and future plans of G. Henle Verlag. The interview was conducted by Pierre-Jean Tribot (original in English). Thank you for your permission to publish.
Crescendo Magazine, 27 August 2019 (online):
In the music publishing industry, German publishers G. Henle Verlag are renowned for the exceptional quality of their Urtext publications. Founded over 70 years ago, G. Henle Verlag has developed unique know-how and competence in the musicological approach to editing music, and reached a level of competence that guarantees perfection. “Crescendo” magazine interviewed Dr. Norbert Gertsch, head of publishing at G. Henle Verlag, and responsible for the Henle programme (original in English).
Crescendo: G. Henle Verlag is one of the major players in music publishing. It is also an old publisher, with more than 70 years in excellence. How do you perpetuate this legacy?
Gertsch: Actually, Henle is one of the youngsters amongst publishers in the classical music realm. Just think of Breitkopf & Härtel who are celebrating their 300th year in 2019, Schott Music who will be 250 years in 2020 or Peters Edition who have been in business over 200 years. When Günter Henle founded the publishing house in 1948, he was first and foremost committed to one thing: Urtext editions. This was a huge opportunity because the scholarly method of editing sheet music had not been exploited by others in a big way. It was largely uncharted territory and obviously musicians were eager for him to fill it as soon as possible. Urtext editions at Henle’s have been a success story ever since. Because of the extremely time-consuming work we do – projects usually take years – it has taken decades to fill the catalogue and even today we are still publishing true masterpieces. Just think of the Mozart String Quartets, two volumes of which are out and two more in preparation. And some important concertos are also still missing: Tschaikovsky’s and Liszt’s Piano Concertos, the Dvorák Cello Concerto, to name just a few. So, to answer your question how we perpetuate our legacy: We continue to work at the highest quality level to publish scores prepared with scholarly excellence and optimally fitted out for performance.
G. Henle Verlag has a very high recognized expertise in publishing Urtext. Since then, many other publishing companies have taken an interest in Urtext. What are your working methods to preserve the know-how of G. Henle Verlag?
G. Henle Verlag was indeed the first publishing house to place the editing of Urtext scores in the centre of their activities. We did not invent the term “Urtext” nor were we the first to publish scores marked “Urtext”. But we were certainly the first to systematically build up a whole catalogue of Urtext editions, starting with piano solo music and works for solo string instruments with piano accompaniment. With over 1,200 editions in our catalogue at present, we have a huge advantage over other publishers in the area of Urtext, but of course, our competitors are slowly catching up. I would describe our know-how as being twofold: on the one hand Urtext, but on the other, a deep understanding of how to present scores in the best possible way – both for practice and performance. We create practical Urtext editions. Our scholarly work of editing or of supervising the editing of others is done by five PhD musicologists, all of whom are also musicians. There is no compromise when it comes to following our scholarly method and a lot of V.I.P. artists support our work by contributing fingerings and bowings, cadenzas, piano reductions and general advice, especially when it comes to difficult editorial questions which can only be solved through the joint efforts of a scholar and musician. I believe that this commitment to a true and practical musical text is still unsurpassed in the music publishing world.
How do you determine the editorial program?
Of course we would love to publish as much of the wonderful music out there as soon as possible. But there are certain limitations which we have to take into consideration when planning. First and foremost, there is the copyright issue. Because Henle Verlag has traditionally not been working with living composers, we do not hold any copyrights for music of the 20th or 21st century (with the exception of Evgeny Kissin’s works). To be able to add a composer to our catalogue, the copyright on the music has to have run out. In Germany and most countries in the world this happens 70 years after the composer’s death. So, for example, in 2020 we will be allowed to publish the works of Richard Strauss. When a new name enters our catalogue, we endeavour to follow the strategy that we have always followed for our catalogue: We first look at piano music, then at works for string instruments and piano, then smaller chamber music ensembles etc. However, we are also guided by the popularity of the works and we will try to publish Urtext editions of the most important compositions as soon as possible.
As for works of composers from the 17th to 19th century, whose works are, of course, all out of copyright, we decide mainly on the basis of popularity and demand. Many artists contact us and ask for particular works to be edited. We then evaluate the situation – including some financial calculations – and decide what to do. If there is one thing we have learned from the past, it is that a mediocre composition or an unknown composer will not become successful just because the music is published by Henle. It’s very hard for us, but we often have to say no when it comes to lesser-known works and composers. There is still so much to do!
What are the major challenges facing a publishing company specializing in Urtext in 2019?
Well, of course, with every Urtext project we also have to consider the financial side of things; we cannot publish everything. As a consequence, it will become increasingly difficult in the not so distant future to “find” good repertoire for our core catalogue that will also provide the necessary earnings for the publishing house. This is why we are branching out into new areas and testing their market value. It really is a learning-by-doing process.
Although many see the age of digitalization as a huge challenge, we have fully embraced the changes that musicians are asking for. Thinking digital, thinking online has been on the table for many years and plays a role in our strategy for the future. We are not scared of the free-download competition on the Internet, quality will always come out on top!
You have also developed an app for iOS and Android. Why is digital important to you?
Publishing digital scores in an app was actually a reaction to the demands of the market. I myself had an “awakening” at an MTNA (Music Teachers National Association) conference where I was giving a talk about Urtext. After the talk, members of the audience lined up, waving their iPads, asking when we would finally publish a digital version of our scores. As a more traditional publishing house, this did catch us a bit by surprise. But what won us over in the following months were the amazing possibilities that digital scores offer us. There are some unique features that are only possible in the digital version, for example showing the score with or without fingerings and bowings. Or offering several different fingering and bowing layers by great musicians etc. We could see these advantages and decided that it made sense to offer our scores in a different medium. And, as we have since found out, so do many musicians today.
You are currently working on a complete edition of Bartók's works. What are the motivations behind this editorial adventure? What binds a German publisher to a Hungarian composer?
Henle’s roots have always been in piano music, so there was no question that when the copyright for Bartók’s works ran out, we would start publishing his music. After all, he is one of the most important composers of the 20th century and made a significant contribution to the piano repertoire. We also felt that it was time for a new complete edition project at Henle’s, because two of our current three complete editions series, Haydn and Beethoven, will come to an end in the foreseeable future. We cannot edit the full oeuvre of a prolific composer such as Bartók – our team is too small. We need to partner up with a scholarly institution, to ask them to do the editing work so that we can then publish the complete edition volumes, which usually also comprise a large amount of text, and finally add Urtext editions to our catalogue. The Bartók Archives in Budapest are the ideal partner for such an undertaking, we are happy to have them on board.
2020 will be the Beethoven year! Your collection of Beethoven's Complete Works is an absolute must! What do Henle publishing plans to mark this anniversary?
When planning the Beethoven year, we first of all wondered whether it was such a blessing that we had the whole Beethoven oeuvre in our catalogue. What could we actually do to top what was already there? Our most prestigious current project is, of course, the new edition of all the Beethoven Piano Sonatas, edited by Murray Perahia and myself: The Perahia edition. But it won’t be completed by 2020, so we decided to present two attractive volumes, five famous and five “easy” Sonatas respectively. They were already published last month. And, the Symphonies will be finished in 2020. So, we will publish them all in a complete set of study scores, also in an attractive slip case. We have also published a revision of all piano variations and several other study editions. In addition to our publication plan, there are other events on the horizon that I’m afraid I can’t talk about yet. You’ll just have to be patient.
You will also publish scores by the famous Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin? Isn't it a challenge to propose works alongside those of legendary composers?
Maestro Kissin has always been admired immensely by the Henle family and the team at the publishing house. As you know we don’t publish music by contemporary composers. But when Evgeny Kissin asked us if we were interested in publishing his first three opera – a cycle of piano pieces, a cello sonata and a string quartet – we felt we couldn’t just say no because we “normally” don’t do this. Maestro Kissin’s music is a wonderful addition to the repertoire and is already being played by some of the big names in the classical world. It’s an honour to have his name in the catalogue.
What are the other major projects of the Henle publishing house?
We will branch out into new areas. For example, up to now we have tended to publish works for accomplished musicians, often technically demanding ones. But there is a whole world of beginners and good amateurs out there that we could serve. But I won’t say any more, except, perhaps, watch this space!