Panic in the Langham Bar

Panic in the Langham Bar


norman lebrecht

October 28, 2007

I was having morning tea on Friday with Anne-Sofie von Otter and her accompanist Bengt Forsberg across the road from the BBC when Bengt’s mobile bleeped with a text and his face lost most of its colour. As soon as Anne-Sofie was out of earshot he said to me, ‘what do you do if you’re giving a recital in 24 hours and someone has left your music on a plane?’
The music was fairly rare – some songs by Erich Wolfgang Korngold – and a call to the original publisher’s London shop confirmed that it was not in stock.
Thinking cap to the ready, I gave Bengt a couple of names who might help, followed by a screed of antiquarians who might have a score in some bottom drawer. Then his phone bleeped again. A copy had been located in Kengsington Music Shop. All was well.
As we parted, the thought occurred: what if this had not been London but somewhere less diversely endowed with musical esoterica – Sydney, say, or Chicago, or Athens? What does an artist say and do when the music disappears?
All experiences and outcomes warmly received.


  • Why couldn’t he contact the airline and see if they found it with the flight number he arrived on?
    NL: London has the world’s worst record for lost luggage. As for cabin baggage, the turnaround here is so fast, the plane would have been long gone.

  • Jose Sanchis says:

    From Spain it would be hard to find all the music in such a short time. I would contact some Music schools and some singers that might know the pieces. If it were impossible to find just a little part of the music we would have to consider a little change in the program, and excuse us in front of the audience.

  • Norman, Chicago is not Siberia. Northwestern University and the University of Chicago have enormous music libraries. The city is crawling with voice coaches and accompanists who work with all those singers at that Lyric Opera company camped out in the Civic Opera House, and those in the music programs at four other universities. Even the public library downtown has a deep catalog of music scores. A quick check of its online catalog reveals at least three Korngold song cycles, the vocal scores to two operas, his cello concerto, and something called Der Schneemann, Pantomine in two pictures.

    Oh, and there’s some independent research library called the Newberry Library that has the papers of Theodore Thomas and Frederick Stock. If some forgetful accompanist misplaces his scores, I’m pretty sure we’d be able to accommodate him, someway, somehow, especially if it’s just Korngold and that already exists in published form.
    NL: Marc, that’s great to know. I withdraw any slur on Chicago resources. Schneeman, by the way, is the ballet-pantomime that Mahler commissioned from the 10 year-old Korngold. It was performed in Zemlinsky’s orchestration at the Vienna Opera on October 4, 1910.

  • Kristi Austin says:

    Glad to see Jose mention libraries. Many of them are connected (via a system called Interlibrary Loan) such that, copyright laws permitting, they can sometimes scan items and send them electronically, very quickly. Of course those copies would not have the musicians own “notes to self” and other markings.
    (As a musician myself, this story helps reconfirm the notion that memorization is a good practice, though in some cases nigh-on impossible.)

  • Just about anything he needed could be obtained immediately from “the sheet music underground”, that is, unofficial copies of the repertoire they could use in an emergency. You just have to know where to look!
    NL: tell us more…

  • john mclaughlin williams says:

    There exists a large body of musicians and music lovers who collect and exchange digitized rare scores for personal study. Overwhelmingly these scores are made scarce by their publishers for one or another reason. In the digital age it is possible to have in one’s own library the equivalent of several major public collections. If Bengt lost his Korngold scores he could get most and maybe all of them back nearly immediately.

  • Bill Brunson says:

    While it would entail extra work, scanning the program into a separate pdf files and placing it on a server would allow Bengt and other performers in similar distress to retrieve their music via the internet. All that is lacking then is a suitable printer.
    NL: Be aware: some music publishers might regard that as a copyright violation.

  • Miranda B Sharp says:

    To all of you who still live in the 19th century – every musician and singer- goodness I have used singer and musician in the same phrase – should have the music downloaded on a disk – or memory stick – each and every time he/she is away from his/ her home town – if such a luxury exists for the professional perfomer – its as easy a finding a kinkos and presto – or tell the concierge – to have it done at the Business centre – who needs to leave your hotel room –
    The music can be licensed for
    the purposes by the publisher –
    If Korngold was still alive he would have his own version in the same format.
    Ms. B. Sharp

  • JMW says:

    People all over the world trade files of scores like others trade download music. It’s is not for profit and is merely a new way of dissemination and education, one far more efficient than the old. This is a techno tidal wave and cannot be stopped. Need the complete works of Nikolai Medtner? Two clicks to the database. All this is in effect the world’s best, largest perusal service, and it is invaluable particularly for composers and performers. A composer can now reach a huge audience without any extra work, and he will make money because professionals are required to buy copies for performance. One large database recently shutdown, not because of any actual violation of law, but because its webmaster didn’t want to spend time responding to silly letters implying legal transgression. Fear not; like a movable Rave it will resurface somewhere else. Now, please excuse me, I must go examine the Henri Herz Piano Concerto No.6 (with Chorus). Truly this is the best of times.

  • Leon Van Dyke says:

    I was touring with the Boston Symphony Chamber Players as general factotum, page turner, baggage handler in 1967 when we traveled to the USSR for several weeks of performances. One group of players left on an earlier flight to Moscow from London, and I followed with some others on a flight a day later with the group’s touring trunks. Each trunk accomodated two players, usually holding their music, formal attire, and additional clothing along with all necessities for a lengthy tour. I walked out on the tarmac in London to see with my own eyes that these trunks were onloaded aboard the Air India aircraft which took us on to Moscow.
    Upon arrival in Moscow, I demanded to see the trunks being unloaded and after a somewhat protracted delay was accommodated. The plane had been unloaded of all freight. I was driven to the warehouse where that flight’s freight was stored for shipping onward. The players’ trunks were not to be found, including an extra – the case carrying the French Horn player’s instrument.
    The group had been assured that we were “artists” and need not concern ourselves with baggage being searched. And, personal luggage was not given any attention by Soviet customs agents or immigration officers and we all were bussed into Moscow for an overnight stay at the Leningradskaya Hotel. The following day we flew onto our first playdate. With whatever few sheets of music the players themselves had retained in their personal baggage for practice purposes, and a call to local musicians, a program somewhat akin to the previously announced format was performed sans formal attire. Two playdates later in the city of Lvov, our trunks and the French Horn mysteriously appeared at the concert hall in which we were to appear later that evening. Just a cursory glance at the trunks revealed that they had, indeed, been opened and inspected by not tampering with their locks but by removing their hinges.
    Personal baggage had been searched in our hotel rooms while we all were dining or performing during a previous evening.
    Aside from the occasional lack of sufficient hotel space for our group in 3 cities, and the Soviet assumption that Americans dined on french fried potatoes at every dinner meal, nothing further upset our tour’s applecart. However, we did learn of the Six Day War’s onset while en route from Mosocw to Leningrad aboard the overnight “Red Arrow” train. Oh, yes, my only other real concern occurred aboard an Aeroflot flight between playdates – I arose from my aisle seat in the plane prior to takeoff to find it raised into the air like the empty end of a seesaw. The seats were not properly attached to the flooring.