Hidden behind the iconic green covers of Edition Peters lies a story
that is fascinating, complex, at times heart-breakingly tragic, but
overwhelmingly inspirational. This year Edition Peters proudly celebrates 150
years of the green cover series and here is a short version of our story.
Edition Peters was founded in 1800 in Leipzig Germany, now known as the
City of Music, due to its close ties with Johann Sebastian Bach, Mendelssohn,
Reger, Schumann, Wagner and of course home to the world famous Gewandhaus
Orchestra. 217 years later Leipzig is a city still bursting with culture and
immensely proud of its crucial place in the history of Western classical music.
In the 19th century Leipzig was the centre of publishing and printing in Germany,
and at the forefront of technological developments in this area, and this fact plays
a crucial role in our story.
During the first 66 years of life, the company had a succession of
owners and for a number of years was based in the ground floor of Mendelssohn’s
house in Leipzig. By 1867 C.F. Peters, was partly owned by Max Abraham -a
remarkable business visionary. Abraham was the first music publisher to adopt
the new revolutionary rotary printing press, which radically reduced printing
The new green Edition Peters series burst onto the market at a fifth of
the price of any other other sheet music, in beautifully engraved and reliably
edited scores. On day one 100 titles were released. This universal library of
music transformed the availability of sheet music to musicians around the
world: it was now affordable. The first
title was of course EP 1, J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier – fittingly
appropriate for the city of J.S. Bach.
The success of Abraham’s vision was breathtaking. The Edition Peters
green series was selling in unprecedented numbers for a music publisher, in
countries all around the globe. Abraham’s motto was Kürze ist Würze – brevity is the essence. And
he certainly was a man to get things done. The releases just kept coming and
coming, and by 1877 we were up to number EP1740a – Mendelssohn’s Songs
Without Words. Over the coming decades all the core areas of
repertoire, from Burgmüller piano studies to Lieder by Hugo Wolf and the major
choral masterpieces from the great composers, were now available in the green
But Max was also a
scrupulously fair and generous man. When Robert Schumann’s works came out of
copyright and he was about to release all his piano music, in 1881 he wrote to
Clara Schumann, the piano virtuoso and composer’s widow, offering her a
substantial financial gift. Abraham felt it unfair that she had not benefited
fairly from her husband’s genius. She gratefully accepted.
And this is just one example
of the philanthropic history of the company’s owners. This generosity of spirit
from Max Abraham was also shared with his staff: he introduced a compulsory savings scheme to
which he contributed generously and started a pension scheme for employees at
the company’s expense and contributed towards his staff’s tax payments. In the
1880s he was one of the first employers in Leipzig to instigate holidays and at
Christmas gave a bonus to any member of staff suffering hardship.
By 1874 Max Abraham and
Edition Peters were based in their grand new home in Talstrasse 10, Leipzig.
Designed by Otto Bruckwald, the architect of Wagner’s Festpielhaus in Bayreuth,
Talstrasse 10 was a cultural landmark in the city and many composers would visit
Max Abraham and his nephew Henri Hinrichsen and his family. Their beautiful
family dining room was home to many fascinating conversations with composers
and evenings of music. This room has now been beautifully restored and is home
to the Grieg museum.
And it is the relationship
between Max Abraham, Henri Hinrichsen and Edvard Grieg which stands out as
totally unique in the history of music publishing. Grieg came to refer to
Abraham as his adoptive father. The warmth of their relationship is chronicled
in over 400 letters between publishers and composer. Abraham ensured Grieg had
financial stability throughout his lifetime, to concentrate fully on his
composing. Grieg would stay with the family at Talstrasse 10 on his frequent
visits to Leipzig and indeed composed sections of Peer Gynt whilst there. Grieg
and his wife Nina holidayed across Europe with Abraham and later with Henri
Hinrichsen and his family. Abraham paid for the land on which Grieg built his
much longed-for home at Troldhaugen, Norway. All of Grieg’s works were
published within the Edition Peters with immense success for both publisher and
Grieg wrote to Abraham on
the 100th anniversary of the company in
1900, although Abraham was not destined to receive the letter, dying peacefully
before it arrived:
… like a total picture from my
inner eye, and this picture shows to me yet again the deep gratitude for the
house of C.F. Peters and its dear proprietor, from which I will be imbued until
my dying breath… In deepest friendship also from my wife,
Your true friend, Edvard Grieg
Henri Hinrichsen (1868-1942)
By 1933 the company was
continuing to thrive under the direction of Abraham’s nephew, Henri Hinrichsen.
The Edition Peters green cover series was continually developing and the company
was the first to issue an Urtext publication with 1stedition of J.S. Bach’s
Two Part Inventions in 1933. Henri boldly assigned the publishing rights for
Arnold Schoenberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces, Mahler’s 5th and 6th
Symphonies and the orchestral tone poems of Richard Strauss.
Henri continued his uncle’s
philanthropic actions, donating considerable sums to charitable and cultural
causes in Leipzig and the rest of Germany. However, tragedy was about to change
things forever. The company was one of the first to be aranyized by the National
Socialists. Henri’s two eldest sons managed to escape – Max to London where he
started Peters Edition Limited in 1938. Walter made it safely to New York
founded C.F. Peters Corporation.
Eleven members of the family
including Henri, perished in the Holocaust, and one surviving Hinrichsen family
member gave a harrowing testimony of her time in five concentrations camps at
the Nuremburg trials.
Leipzig was under Russian
control and C.F Peters became the East German state music publishing house. A
West German company was created in 1951, in Frankfurt. Meanwhile in London and
New York, Max and Walter’s companies were hard at work sustaining their family’s
heritage. Max fought a potentially crippling legal case against Novello &
Co who had challenged his ownership rights due to his father’s death in
Auschwitz. This lead to a landmark ruling in the supreme court in his favour.
By the mid 1950s Walter had made the audacious signings of John Cage and George
Crumb and he was one of the first US publishers to start to market his products
in post war Japan.
And throughout all of this
mayhem and tragedy, the green cover series just kept on being printed,
distributed and developed. In 2010 the Edition Peters Group was founded,
formally bringing together the individual companies, under the shared ownership
of the Hinrichsen Foundation in the UK and the heirs of Walter in the US. In October
2014, the Frankfurt company was closed down and Edition Peters Germany made an
emotional return to its home city and heimat in a beautifully restored
In 2017 we are not only
celebrating the green series but the technological innovation that was behind
it. Edition Peters is innovating again, and just as seriously. Using
Tido's groundbreaking technology, we are releasing the very best of
the series as enriched digital editions – fit for use by the next generation of
musicians. Again we’ve started with piano as featured in Piano Masterworks,
the first collection to appear on the Tido Music app. But this time around
we're not only talking about the notation – we’ve added video tutorials and
performances from world-class artists and specialists, first-class audio,
brilliantly written contextual notes about the composers and their works, and
some really powerful practice tools. And the best thing is that it’s all in one
place. The notation is the connective tissue that links all of these wonderful
elements of music together; elements that have been kept apart until now!
And just like 150 years ago,
we are making this content available at an impressive rate: we’re aiming to
have 100 works in the collection by the end of 2017, and that‘s only the
beginning…. To find out more, visit www.tidomusicapp.com and look out for new content as other
publishers start to come on board.
This article is a very short introduction to the history
of Edition Peters. To find out more there are two books written by Henri
Hinrichsen’s grandaughter, Irene Lawford-Hinrichsen: Music Publishing and Patronage, C.F. Peters 1800 to the Holocaust
and Five Hundred Years to Auschwitz.
Linda Hawken is Managing Director of Edition
Peters, Europe. She trained as a trumpet player and conductor and has worked
for the company for 20 years. Currently she is based in Leipzig and works in
Talstrasse 10, Leipzig, with frequent visits to the Peters office in London.