Composers, publishers and the market in late Georgian Britain

Rowland, David (2020). Composers, publishers and the market in late Georgian Britain. In: Sala, Massimiliano ed. Music publishing and composers (1750-1850). Speculum Musicae (37). Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 85–112.



In Britain during the period c.1770 – 1830 composers were dependent on the market for their livelihood, and in order to understand and to reach that market they depended on the expertise of music publishers. It is the interrelation of composers, publishers and the market that this chapter explores.
Who were the music-buying public, where did they live, and what sort of music did they want? Although the market was dispersed throughout the country, it was mostly focussed on London, the centre of Britain’s music-publishing industry. And during this period it was the social elite who could afford to buy published music: it was only later in the nineteenth century that the lower middle classes and members of the working classes could afford the luxury of printed scores. The market for published music was therefore relatively small, although some growth can be identified during the period, especially in music for domestic consumption. The chapter outlines data concerning the size of the market, including the scope of publishers’ catalogues and in particular the size of print runs, while also assessing the viability of niche markets.
Following a brief introduction to copyright issues, the nature and variety of the contractual relationships between composers and publishers is explored. All this is a necessary precursor to the detailed discussion that follows of the finances of publishing, which uses the evidence of publisher archives as well as composer correspondence. Details are provided of the sales that were required for publishers to cover their costs and the amounts that composers could expect to receive from publishing. The evidence shows that prominent composers could make significant amounts from their works, so long as they sustained the production of new works. It also shows that minor figures could also make reasonable amounts by composing overtly popular works for the domestic market, and by arranging operatic music by well-known composers for domestic consumption.
A final section of the chapter focusses on the impact on the relationship of musical style and the market, especially as it related to the development of keyboard instruments during the period. This was the period in which the piano changed more quickly than at any other time in its history. During the 1760s to 1790s it displaced the harpsichord as the domestic instrument of choice and in the 1790s the instrument was extended from five to six octaves. The speed with which the piano replaced the harpsichord in people’s homes dictated not only the wording of title pages (the way in which the heading «for harpsichord or pianoforte» was succeeded by a heading for pianoforte only), but also the use of the piano’s pedals. The new five-and-a-half octave compass was adopted in piano scores within a few years of its introduction, but the six octave compass was hardly ever represented in the music of the period. The reasons for these phenomenon are explored in detail. Finally, the way in which composers and publishers discussed the constraints of domestic piano techniques is explored.

Viewing alternatives

Download history

Item Actions