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The Path to the Light: From the Discovery of a Piece of Music to the Concert Hall

It’s winter, it’s dark and cold. Dusty sheet music is found in the wardrobe of an old house. The piece has been hidden for centuries and, if it has ever been played, it was never published. But now it has been discovered, and… and then? What is the process before the unknown work can be published and performed, I asked Dr. Uwe Wolf. He is chief editor at Carus-Verlag Stuttgart.

Dear Dr. Wolf, how often do discoveries of this kind occur?

There are countless unknown pieces of music by mostly unknown composers; certainly many, many more than there are known. What we 'know' about historical music, for example what is available in publishing catalogues or recordings, is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. And there are a lot of people who search through this unknown repertoire and bring it to a listening audience in concerts or recordings. So to answer your question – it happens quite often!

As a conductor, where do you find these unknown works?

It varies. You can find them in catalogues or databases or while browsing in a digital library. Or more traditionally: in a reading room, in the archives. There are so many ways to do research today. The most difficult – and crucial! – thing is to identify the right search term...

How is it decided who will publish it? And how does Carus-Verlag decide whether or not to publish it?

If you discover a piece, perform it in a concert and realize that it is actually good music, it seems a natural progression to offer it to a publisher of your choice (some also send it to every publisher they can think of; the surest way to stop it from getting published!). You can also publish on online publication platforms, but things can get lost in such a large pool and also you have to deal everything on your own. This makes a publisher a more attractive choice. For the publisher, however, the unknown is always a problem: no-one is seeking it out – and how could they when it‘s unknown music! And making unknown music known is incredibly difficult for a publisher. Nevertheless, we are constantly trying to do just that, but certain factors have to be right for it to succeed. An unknown work by a well-known composer is a good combination. Or the piece has to have some sort of connection with something better known: text, teacher of the composer, arrangement, need... This is a tricky situation where we always think that it might work, but you never know! Sometimes it actually does work. All in all, any unknown music that is given a chance only makes up a tiny fraction of the new releases. Because a publisher can only very rarely make money from them, and thus recoup the costs of research, production, marketing and all the rest.

What is the process for the sheet music edition?

If we decide to take a chance on a piece, that’s when the research begins. Are we sure there’s no pre-existing edition or recording? Are there any legal issues? Is the information we have correct? Is it really by the identified composer? People often say that the source for this is an autograph. Is this really the case? Is this really the only source? Did the person who offered it to us hand over everything correctly? Very often, the situation changes substantially during the period of research. Sometimes we end up turning the edition down (e.g. it turns out that the composer is someone different or their identity is doubtful to say the least). But it may also be that we continue, but now with three sources instead of one. Or everything is as we thought – that‘s good too!

Down the line, it doesn’t matter whether the piece is known or unknown. A contract is made with the editor, checks are made of the musical text, and its associated critical commentary to make sure it contains all the essential (and not too many insignificant) things. Then the “manuscript” (in submissions these days this is usually a music notation file) is configured: notes are made to determine how it should look later on. Then it goes to the typesetters who input it or edit the submitted music file so that it looks like a Carus publication. Then there are correction runs, if necessary, a piano score is commissioned and a continuo realization, the voice parts are created – and everything is corrected again and again. In the meantime the publisher writes a foreword, which in turn is checked, edited, translated, typeset... And marketing and sales are already thinking about where to place the new edition in the market. And finally, the edition leaves the printer, makes its way into the webshop, the newsletter and catalogues – if it is a decent-sized piece there might also be a workshop somewhere. And we all hope that our promotion around its release will succeed in persuading people to perform it, so that the piece has a chance to become known and does not sink back into the depths of the catalogue (there are also unknown treasures in the Carus catalogue that deserve to be performed, but – for whatever reason – have not come to anyone’s notice).

Have pieces landed on your desk in recent years that make you think they could be a true discovery with a strong unique selling point?

Difficult question. I can’t think of one big experience off the top of my head, but there have been many smaller ones. When I got the tip-off in the run-up to the Beethoven year that a contemporary of Beethoven had composed a Kyrie for choir and orchestra based on the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata, I thought it was either completely idiotic or had huge potential. I got the piece, it was well done, we issued it – and it was (and still is) performed up and down the country. But it‘s not a revelation, it’s a cool idea, well done. That kind of thing happens a lot. I found the individuality of the mass by Felix Petyrek surprising and convincing (but it still flopped). I really like the children’s choral cantatas by Daniel Stickan for their conviction and the high standard with which texts and music are compiled into something that children can perform, but also for the fact that there is something for the adult listeners to take away with them over and above just watching the children make music. So there are a lot of things. But there are also any number of pieces that I really like and that we still don‘t publish – because we already know that almost noone will perform them (for very different reasons). That hurts too.

Other things are not really a discovery, but still so inaccessible that they are rarely done: Donizetti’s Requiem is one such. A great piece with subtle, colourful instrumentation, done with a very fine brush. I hope that this will be a discovery for many – even if there was “sort of” already material!

Which composer’s work do you wish was still lying forgotten in an attic, waiting to come to


Well, what else can I say other than that someone finally needs to find the St Mark’s Passion by J. S. Bach please – and then come straight to me! It can’t be ruled out, but it’s also not very likely (both parts). There are a few other pieces by other composers the existence of which we know of, but not where they are – for example the two masses by Jacques Offenbach. I have not yet completely given up hope. Is it good music? Who knows? I’d like to know.

Edited by Lore Auerbach, Germany

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