Berlin Elgar Hendrix by Daryl Runswick
This is a piece about copyright. Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
The answer lies in copyright law. Any work (musical or literary) remains the intellectual property of the heirs and/or publishers of an artist for 70 years after the artist’s death. During that period the copyright owners can licence or forbid the use of that work as they see fit. For 60 years the heirs of Sir Edward Elgar had forbidden any use of the sketches of the Third Symphony. But sometime in the 1990s they realised that the situation would soon change. At the end of the 70th-anniversary year of Elgar’s death, 2004, the Third Symphony would come into the public domain. Had the sketches been kept within the family, they could have simply hidden them from public view. But the pages had been published, and from 2005 would be available to any hack to do what he liked with. The solution of least harm, decided Elgar’s family, was to commission someone they trusted to complete the symphony: they could then control the quality of the result. In addition, the complete work would now remain under copyright protection for a long time into the future – until 70 years after Anthony Payne’s death, in fact: this is because any work of music or literature remains in copyright until 70 years after the death of the last surviving contributor to it.
I was personally affected by all this some years ago: not in relation to Elgar or
That was in 1989, and the sequel is equally surprising. Berlin promptly died, that same year. His heirs, not so fanatical in their stewardship of the estate (which must already have run to billions) issued a blanket permission for any Irving Berlin tune to be recorded by anyone, for no fee (so long as the usual royalties were paid on sales). And here’s the rub: EMI’s CD had not yet come out. Did they now reprint with White Christmas included again? Did they hell. By the accident of a few weeks my arrangement was consigned to history.
Or was it? I’ve been informed by Jo Fowler that some people have copies of A Little Christmas Music with White Christmas present. My copy doesn’t, and the track list on Amazon omits it. Curiouser and curiouser.
Meanwhile, what do you think of this? – Irving Berlin’s first major hit tune, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, was composed in 1911 as the First World War loomed on the horizon. Because Berlin lived until 1989, this ancient melody by someone born in 1888 will still be in copyright until 2059.
A similar situation holds for works by Gershwin, but not all of them: George
Footnote: my White Christmas arrangement also quotes directly from Prokofiev’s Troika. Has EMI or anyone else noticed? Prokofiev, and his publisher Boosey & Hawkes, ought to be getting royalties too,