Claiming Copyright in your Music

Music Copyright, the 18th/19th Century Way:

So you’re a composer in Regency Britain, say 1813, and you want to claim copyright inwriting-1043622_640 your music.  What do you do?  Well, if you have a publisher, they might submit it to Stationers’ Hall, where it would be registered.  They might not, though.  (Some publishers thought they’d have the best of both worlds – they’d print a copyright statement to the effect that it had been entered at Stationers’ Hall, but they wouldn’t actually bother doing so.)  In any event, it’s a bit hit or miss.

If you’re self-publishing, then you might consider it in your own interest to register your copyright in the work.  After all, by now it’s at least accepted that composers’ work did count as intellectual property and deserved protection.  That wasn’t necessarily the case in the mid-18th century!

Copies of music registered at Stationers’ Hall would then be sent to all the legal deposit libraries – the British Museum (which became the British Library), Sion College in London, the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrews, Aberdeen and Trinity College Dublin, the Advocates’ Library (which became the National Library of Scotland), and Kings’ Inns, also in Dublin.  Whether the music gets to all these places is also a bit hit or miss!  It’s not always sent, not always kept methodically upon arrival, and some libraries don’t want all this music anyway.

Tracing It Today

The Claimed from Stationers Hall project sets out to find out more about what happened to all the Stationers’ Hall music.  This is Week 2 of the network’s existence, so you’ve come in right at the start.  If you’re interested in early music publishing, library history, or the social, cultural side of the music borrowed from these libraries, then this network is right up your street.  Please follow this blog, and the Twitter @ClaimedStatHall, and do let us know if you’re working on anything in any way related to this repertoire!

St Andrews and now Aberdeen

Karen has spent some time exploring the rich archival resources at the University of St Andrews, where the Stationers’ Hall music was sifted through, much was catalogued, and then it was eagerly borrowed by a number of people via the professors’ library memberships.  We can trace what was received, find it in a fascinating handwritten catalogue, and even observe who borrowed what.

unknown artist; King's College, Aberdeen
King’s College, Aberdeen
unknown artist
University of Aberdeen

But what of the other libraries?  This week, the magnifying glass focused on the parallel collection in Aberdeen.  Work has been done on the documentation of what was received by the library in the 18th century by former librarian and research scholar Richard Turbet, and we can now see what was received in these early years, even if it doesn’t all survive today.  (Turbet, ‘Music Deposited by Stationers’ Hall at the Library of the University and King’s College of Aberdeen, 1753-96′, RMA Research Chronicle 30 (1997) pp.139-162)

Roughly half of the surviving copyright music is now in the online catalogue there: at the time of writing, 2062 of an approximate 4400 items in the entire bound Stationers Hall Music collection.  How was it used by the community in contemporary Aberdeen, though?  The next question is to establish where there are comparable loan records to those in St Andrews.  We do know, through Richard Turbet’s work, that there were concerns as to what had happened to the Stationers’ Hall music, in the Aberdeen Censor of 1826.  Intriguing!

Catalogues and Conundrums

The union catalogue of UK University and national libraries makes it easy to trace most things so long as they have been catalogued online.  However, differences in cataloguing mean that it’s not always as easy as you’d think.  Take Gesualdo Lanza’s Elements of Singing in the Italian and English Styles.

Different cataloguing approaches make it a little difficult to untangle, but if you search Lanza, Elements of Singing, you retrieve 16 entries, one of which is just a print portrait. It was published in 1813 – different catalogues have it self-published, published by Button and Whittaker, or indeed printed and sold by Chappell.  Around 1819-20, an abridged version appeared, again by Chappell (though the catalogue records don’t all state this the same way), and apparently again in 1826.

So there are at least two if not three basic versions, and you’d expect them each to appear in all the copyright libraries?  Think again!  Differently styled catalogue records reveal copies of the 1813 publication in Glasgow, St Andrews, Aberdeen, the British Library and Oxford Bodleian, and a copy in York, which was not a copyright library.  The other legal deposit libraries don’t have it, unless it’s still not catalogued online.  (That’s another interesting question.  Some pre-1801 material is definitely not yet catalogued – grant-funding for retro-conversion theoretically took care of (most of) the post 1801 material, just over a decade ago.)  In total, the two or three versions of 1813, 1820 and perhaps 1826 yield 16 entries in Copac, which equates to slightly more than 16 copies.

This Was Week 2 of the Project

Besides looking at work already done on the Aberdeen collection, this week has also entailed documentation of some of the conferences and other networks that touch upon the subject of Regency music or library history – see our Useful Links page, and do please contact us if there are others we’ve missed!  And of course, we’ve been networking.  We’ve tweeted and we’ve emailed, and we’re loving the responses we’ve received.  Keep in touch!

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