False triste as mean Vienna Philharmonic blanks out Sibelius

False triste as mean Vienna Philharmonic blanks out Sibelius


norman lebrecht

November 17, 2014

To kick off the 150th birthday year of Jean Sibelius, the Vienna Philharmonic planned to play n New Year’s Day the Finnish composer’s famous Valse triste.

What they apparently forgot is that Sibelius lived to the age of 91 and is still in copyright.

When his publishers quite reasonably asked for a royalty that reflected the concert’s audience of 60 million in 73 countries, the mean team of the Vienna Philhamornic issued this notice:

“Die Wiener Philharmoniker bedauern außerordentlich, das bereits bekanntgegebene Programm des Neujahrskonzertes 2015 abändern zu müssen. Das im Gedenken an den 150. Geburtstag von Jean Sibelius angesetzte Werk Valse triste wird wegen unannehmbarer Forderungen des Verlages im Rahmen des Neujahrskonzertes 2015 nicht aufgeführt werden.” 

In other words, we’ve changed the rpogramme.

The amount requested by the publisher was 4,000 Euros. The Vienna Phil refused to pay more than 2,000. The orch recently trousered a million dollars from Sibelius’s near-compatriot (the composer was half-Swedish), the Birgit  Nilsson Foundation.

Have they no shame? Absolutely none.

vienna phil

h/t: Tero-Pekka Hennell

UPDATE: Now read the publisher’s response here.


  • Pirkko says:

    Half Swedish?

    Jean Sibelius had nothing to do with Swedishness. He was born into Russian Grand Duchy of Finland, and died as a citizen of independent Finland. Get your facts right.

    • sdReader says:

      Sibelius was born in Finland, the son of Swedish-speaking doctor Christian Gustaf Sibelius and Maria Charlotta Sibelius née Borg.

      • KDS says:

        A lot of Fins speak Swedish. This does not make them Swedish nationals.

      • Joel V. says:

        For clarification;

        When tracing back Sibelius’ ancestry, Sibelius was extremely disappointed to discover that instead of a royal bloodline they went well back into ordinary 100% Finnish-speaking farmers in Finland’s Ostrobothnia and Satakunta. However, Finland was under Sweden until 1809, and back then all the tax documents were written in Swedish by the Swedish officials – this meant that also 100% Finnish-speaking farmers were given Swedish names into their tax documents without asking their opinion about it. Through time many changed their names back into Finnish (especially in the 1930s). Also Sibelius’ son-in-law changed his name back into Finnish (Blomstedt > Jalas).

        During the Swedish rule the Swedish-speaking minority never exceeded more than 15% of the population. However, until the 1860s the school and the university system was only in Swedish. If you wanted to be a member of the “elite” class, if you wanted to educate yourself even a bit, like Sibelius’ parents did, you had to speak Swedish. That’s why for generations Sibelius’ home language had been Swedish, although they were fluent in Finnish.

        During the 1890s Sibelius chose publicly to support the Finnish-speaking cultural class, the “Fennoman movement”, instead of the radical “Svecoman movement”, which was opposing the use of Finnish language in cultural activities and against Finnish culture in general.

        I think pretty much the same thing happened among the Czechs – for centuries they had to learn German. But that doesn’t mean that the Czechs would have been “half-German” because of that. I think Dvorak knew German pretty well too?

        But, in the end, this issue doesn’t really matter that much.

  • Peter says:

    Judge for yourselves when the Philharmonic give a concert in Finland later this season.

  • sdReader says:

    Valse triste was written 110 years ago and should long be out of copyright.

  • David Ashbridge says:

    The question might reasonably be asked just how many of that 60 million audience will be paying to listen. Many millions will view it practically for free having paid pretty much nominal fees to whoever is broadcasting it. The Vienna New Year’s Day Concert might be popular but it is not the only one around and nor is it going to bring in the mega-bucks of a sporting event along with its massive audience from far fewer countries. 60 million in 73 countries works out at less than a million people per country. That isn’t going to make the top ten ratings anywhere.

    I also very much doubt that the Vienna Philharmonic overlooked the issue of royalty payment to Brietkopf, the publisher of Valse Triste. They do after all play Sibelius’s music on a fairly regular basis and their librarian would certainly know as it part and parcel of their job to do so. It is much more likely that they refused to pay such a large sum for a 4 minute piece for very good reasons, the foremost of them being corporate greed.

    Considering a couple of decades ago you wrote about “the corporate murder of classical music” the current activities of what are now little more than a handful of massive music publishers that survived the industry meltdown 2 decades ago would surely warrant a chapter all to themselves. These are the players who bought up many near bankrupt famous music publishers for a song and then put anything in these catalogues they considered incapable of making a mint for them out of print. Meantime hire library fees went through the roof and legal copies of the out of print works were made available at something like £1.50 per A4 page. By any reasonable standards the avarice demonstrated by these few multi-national companies goes way beyond what some soloists charge. No doubt you will recall the boycott by London orchestras against soloists who charged excessive fees for doing about an average 25 minutes of concerto. Well that amounts to small change these days.

    Breitkopf are charging the Vienna Phil. almost 1,000 euro per minute of music. Taking into account an average concert lasts around 90 minutes, if the whole of this concert were to contain Brietkopf published pieces still in copyright, the bill would run to 90,000 euro and that concert expense is before a single musician has been paid even so much one cent. Forget it being about the Vienna Phil. for a minute, for the same fees would apply to any other professional orchestra broadcasting to a similar-sized TV and radio audience and of course most of those orchestras are facing financial difficulties. When the other concert costs are added in such venue hire, conductor, support staff, etc., how is an orchestra supposed to pay its way?

    The hire charges for music under normal concert conditions are ridiculous. Mahler 7 in the latest critical edition issued a few years ago comes in at well over £1,000 hire for one performance. Royalty fees are on top of this depending on the size of the hall and that will be another hefty bill because the piece is 85 minutes long. Pretty good considering Mahler is out of copyright so where is the money going? Into the music publishers bank account with possibly some small royalty fee going to the latest editor, but in many cases this will be unlikely as they will have been paid a one-off fixed fee for their work. When an orchestra has to calculate as part of its expenses the best part of 100,000 being laid out annually on hire fees and performance royalties it is not surprising many are looking at ways to reduce the bills. Incidentally, how much will the Mahler estate get for a performance of the new edition of the 7th symphony? That’s right – zero.

    Perhaps you might want to investigate the case of a well known Italian publisher making a “new edition” [i.e. a corrected version of their own error-shrewn original score and parts] of a well known Verdi opera and wanting to charge 70,000 euro to the company who wished to stage it for 5 performances. Not surprisingly the company concerned sent it straight back and reverted to the old edition which was free. No prizes for working out just how much of that 70,000 would have been paid to Verdi’s estate had the “new edition” production gone ahead.

    Music publishers, have they no shame? Absolutely none and they most certainly have thick brass necks and an arrogance that has destroyed any vestige of good that was left in music copyright law. It is thanks to these laws that the music publishers get away with the practices they now use on a daily basis to principally enrich themselves. The Vienna Philharmonic offer of 2,000 was still remarkably generous for so short a piece, yet the greedy bloody publisher wanted twice as much. The Vienna Phil should be congratulated for pulling the work and effectively telling Brietkopf to get lost. It is high time many more orchestras followed their example.

    • SVM says:

      Would Mr Ashbridge care to cite an example of “any other professional orchestra broadcasting to a similar-sized TV and radio audience”? There are very few, if any, other classical concerts that are so widely broadcast — the only possibility that springs to my mind is the Last Night of the Proms. Furthermore, tickets to hear the concert live are more expensive than the opera at Covent Garden, so the Vienna Phil *will* be making lots of money, even before broadcasting rights are considered!

      There are some very good reasons why copyright provisions extend to the end of the calendar year in which the seventieth anniversary of death occurs: a lot of what we now consider to be classics or masterpieces were not profitable during the lifetime of the composer, and most published music will *never* become a major earner in terms of royalties. If the possibility of making a windfall on a piece were limited to the lifetime of the composer, publishers would be even less inclined to take the financial risk of taking on a work (it is already quite bleak — consider how few living composers have a permanent relationship with a publisher). Having said that, extending copyright indefinitely would be absurd, so the present approach of defining a period of time during which copyright persists is, on balance, a good one, although, like most laws, it is a blunt and imperfect instrument that is not ideal to every single situation.

      I also think copyright is justifiable in new editions (although it should be noted that the term is far more limited than for a composition): the amount of time, skill, and editorial judgement — which does entail some creativity — required to make a good edition of an existing work is not to be underestimated (I learned this the hard way, after taking on a freelance editorial assignment at a per-page rate that worked out to be less than the NMW, and, being self-employed, I have only myself to blame!).

    • Nick says:

      “Many millions will view it practically for free having paid pretty much nominal fees to whoever is broadcasting it.”

      Viewers may pay little to watch the concert but worldwide broadcasters will shell out quite considerable sums. In Switzerland, the licensee is Highlight-Communications Group whose net profit for the year ending 13 August 2014 increased by 34.1%. One of the reasons for the increase stated in its Report was the successful marketing of the VPO’s annual New Year’s Day concert!

      “The Vienna New Year’s Day Concert might be popular but it is not the only one around and nor is it going to bring in the mega-bucks of a sporting event along with its massive audience from far fewer countries.”

      Whilst I agree with your general comments about music publishers and the way royalties and hire fees are calculated and levied, I presume to disagree with your comment about mega-bucks. Apart from the high ticket prices as mentioned by another poster and the fact that there is not just one concert but three, Rolex is the exclusive Sponsor for the concert. This no doubt means some cash in addition to a vast amount of free television and print publicity in many parts of the world. CD and DVD will generate additional income.

      Total revenues may not amount to mega-bucks in sporting terms. In general orchestra terms, they will certainly be very substantial!

      • David Ashbridge says:

        34.1% of what? Here is the answer.

        As a result of the positive operating business performance in its Film segment – in particular in the areas home entertainment and TV exploitation – in the first nine months of the current fiscal year, Highlight Communications AG (ISIN: CH 000 653 9198) is raising its forecast for the consolidated net profit in 2014 as a whole. From today’s perspective, the Board of Directors of the company is now assuming a consolidated net profit of CHF 12 million to CHF 14 million and earnings per share of CHF 0.27 to CHF 0.31.

        It is safe to assume that the profit in August would be around 12 million and that not all this 34% increase came from the NYD concert. But let’s be really generous and say the entire 34% increase came solely from the VPO’s NYD concert. That would be about 3m Swiss Francs, around £2m. Or put another way, considerably less than half the WEEKLY wage bill for the Manchester City football team which comes in around £4.5m. (The salary bill was £233m in 2013)

        In return perhaps you might like to enlighten us by explaining what you mean by “quite considerable sums”

        I could not care less about football. Listening to the Vienna Philharmonic however, that’s different, that’s worthwhile. Good for the VPO that they received $1m which was so heavily sneered at in the opening post of this thread, for it will most certainly be put to better use than anything spent by a football club and achieve far more of cultural value. $1m doesn’t go very far these days but at least it is not being wasted paying exorbitant fees to fat-cat multi-national publishing corporations that never owned these smaller publishers when the works were first published.

        • Nick says:

          Come on! I never stated the entire profit resulted from the VPO’s NYD’s concert. That licence holder clearly states – as I did in my comment – that increased revenues from various events, INCLUDING the NYD concert, contributed to the profit increase. I have no idea what percentage of that profit is attributable to the concert nor the fee actually paid to purchase the rights. The point is that some increased revenues were so attributable.

          Switzerland is one of just 90 countries (according to the VPO’s own site) which broadcast the concert. Switzerland has a small population. License fees are normally based to a certain extent on the numbers able to view it in each country. Licence fees and the other commercial elements I listed are therefore certain to be a major source of revenue for the NYD concert and a substantial contributor to the VPO’s own profits on the event. I’ll bet every other orchestra would be thrilled to receive even a fraction of those total revenues for just one concert!

  • David Ashbridge says:

    Copyright in Europe is life plus 70 years. It is irrelevant that the piece was written 110 years ago. The date of copyright duration for ALL their works published or unpublished is calculated from the year of the composer’s death. Sibelius comes out of copyright in Europe in 2027. It is different elsewhere.

  • Tero-Pekka Henell says:

    David, to be exact, Sibelius will be free 1.1.2028.

  • Tero-Pekka Henell says:

    David, to be exact, Sibelius will be free on 1.1.2028. Sibelius sold all his rights for Valse triste for 100 marks.

  • David Ashbridge says:

    Thanks Tero-Pekka. You are quite right. My error.

  • Tero-Pekka Henell says:

    And Sibelius was so called Finland’s Swede, a Finn with Swedish as mother tongue (as about 6 % of the Finns’ nowadays) but he went in a Finnish school in the small town of Hämeenlinna (in Swedish Tavastehus), where he was born. There are many famous Finland’s Swedish musicians also nowadays, like Monica Groop, Camilla Nylund, Leif Segerstam, John Storgårds and Magnus Lindberg – but they have definitely nothing to do with being a Swede of Sweden.

  • David Ashbridge says:

    It is quite irrelevant about it being any other professional orchestra. It is the principle behind it that is relevant, not whether it is the Vienna Phil or not.

    The copyright provisions you speak of where NOT 70 years during the composers lifetimes. Many were 50 years or less and it was only extended in the 1990s by the EU attempting to harmonise copyright law. What a pity they took so much advice from those who would benefit most; the music publishers.

    Extending copyright indefinitely is indeed absurd, but that is what the current music publishers are seeking to do by issuing corrected editions, if possible close to the expiry of the original copyright. Not possible in every case of course but they try very hard to time it right. Of course they don’t bother issuing corrected editions much before this unless forced to do so. The Berglund corrected editions of Sibelius symphonies 6 and 7 are very definitely exceptions to the rule and these were done by the firm of Hansen, now no longer in existence. Their catalog was swallowed up by Music Sales, the European arm of Wise Publications, the vast American corporation that has all but wrecked most of the publishers it bought. As for correcting works, most orchestras have to make their own corrected editions years before any new editions appear and these never go near the original publisher.

    I have no issue with editors making new editions and claiming copyright in their work. This is highly skilled work and my issue is that they are frequently underpayed for what they do. Meantime the fees charged for hire of the new editions are often excessive when mostly it is a publisher correcting their own mistakes and then getting paid again for what they should have got right first time round.

    • sdReader says:

      Then the people working on the editions should create their own (fair) publishing entity.

    • SVM says:

      I think Mr Ashbridge’s critique of publishers’ methods would have held more currency a decade ago, before the IMSLP was instigated. Nowadays, for many PD works, we have the choice between downloading an old (and possibly error-ridden) edition for free and buying a critical/scholarly edition. This means that publishers are now under greater pressure to offer genuine value in their new editions (and simply correcting a few typographic errors does not really cut it any more).

      My understanding of royalty tariffs is that they are not directly related to the prestige of an orchestra (having said that, maybe it is different in Austria). Rather, the EUR4000 would be calculated on the basis of the ticket receipts and the extent and reach of the broadcast agreements (in which a lot of money does change hands, even if the end-user is not paying). If another orchestra were to replace the Vienna Phil in the concert in question, without any changes to ticket prices and broadcast arrangements, the royalty would, I think, be the same.

  • Sixtus says:

    Valse triste is PD in the USA and Canada and can be freely downloaded at imslp.org. Perhaps the Philharmoniker could decamp and perform their concert from the New World. Just as long as they leave those embarrassingly tacky ballet sequences at home.

  • Ulrich says:

    Another question: Aren’t there quite a lot more interesting (short) pieces by Sibelius than again and again Valse triste and Finlandia? Why honor the special occasion of the 150th birthday with a piece that is played that often anyway.

    • steve says:

      Good idea, but what would you suggest? They’re all fairly common currency eg.Karelia Suite. The neglected areas of his output are the songs and piano music.I propose that a living composer can orchestrate a group of these.

    • Dave Fox says:

      There are certainly alternatives, but the Valse fits in nicely with the Vienna Phil’s New Year’s Day concert. It’s a shame it fell through, but I’m sure there will be other opportunities during the year.

      • sdReader says:

        It is a shame. Sibelius is fading in the public mind, versus 40 years ago. It is all Mahler, Mahler, Mahler now.

        Here was a chance to raise the profile, and for just €4,000.

        • Gerhard says:

          Do you mean by dishing out this sum, or by not demanding it?

        • Ulrich says:

          Sorry, but that is really not true. Finally, in German Sibelius gets the attention he deserves and his works are programmed more and more often. Besides, just look at the many recent Sibelius Complete Symphonies on CD.

    • Erwin Poelstra says:

      I agree. They could play some movements from this Suite, delightful pieces that are not often performed:

  • Ingrid says:

    Well… I’ll offer the Vienna Phil my uncles “Rhapsodie in E flat” for free….
    … at least, Scherbaum was born in Vienna!

  • PaulD says:

    Regarding copyright fees, I have wondered for a while if they are indeed a deterrent to the playing of new music. Orchestra budgets being what they are, it strikes me that the incentive is to play music composed by somebody long dead.

    • SVM says:

      You could argue that just about any fee for any right/service/product is a deterrent to a large number of potential customers. By that logic, you could argue that musicians should play/compose/teach for free… but then musicians would not be able to earn a livelihood, and would not be respected for their immense skill and hard work. This would have the effect of considerably reducing the overall quality and professionalism of music-making, since it would prevent anybody who is not an aristocrat from becoming a serious musician.

  • soothsayer says:

    I don’t understand how it can be free to perform in the US and Canada and yet cost $4000 in Europe. I don’t blame the VPO for being insulted by this. Are they asking for what we call “grand rights” because it is a television broadcast? If they were rental materials in the USA, they would probably cost about $300.

    This is aside from the fact that Valse Triste is completely inappropriate for a New Year’s Concert. “Leichtes Blut!” not “Blutbad”.

    • sdReader says:

      You are right. It was in fact the wrong music for the New Year concert, despite the “valse.” What idiot programmed it?

  • David Ashbridge says:

    The basis of US Federal Copyright Law is the 1790 Act which gave a 14 year term with 14 years renewal but music was not included. The 1831 Act included music and extended the term to 28 years with 14-year renewal and in 1909 this was changed to 28 years with 28 years renewal. In 1923 the US agreed to include foreign publications under US law for an initial period of 28 years with the chance of renewal up to 95 provided it was registered correctly. Before 1923 for foreign works to have any protection in the US they had to be registered for protection on the same day as publication in Europe or elsewhere. Massively complicated for all involved and a legal minefield. The maximum term was 28 years, so anything published in the US before 1923 is now in the public domain. In 1978, the US changed the copyright to life plus 70 years of the last surviving author but only for those works published after 1978. The USA did not sign the Berne Convention on copyright until 1988 .

    • sdReader says:

      Thank you, David. I guess they will keep shifting the laws to protect Winnie the Pooh and of course Mickey the Mouse.

  • David Ashbridge says:

    In Canada the copyright term is life plus 50 years.

  • Milka says:

    Who in their right mind on new year’s day would play this waltz …happy new year and now we will play a sad waltz
    to celebrate the new year ! It is beyond stupid programming even under guise of birthday year.

  • Chris says:

    I agree with the Vienna Philharmonic’s position and can’t find it “reasonable” as Mr. Lebrecht implies, to ask 4.000,- € publishing royalties for performance and broadcasting rights of a 4 minute piece of music, it’s simply too much.

  • David Ashbridge says:

    IMSLP has made very little difference to what publishers do, sell or hire out. Many things are public domain and the same as the Kalmus publications that have been around for decades and form the backbone of many professional and amateur orchestra libraries. Also professionals orchestras do not like using IMSLP downloads for the following reasons. The print is on A4 size pages is smaller than conventional orchestral material, often it is less clear and most orchestras hate having lots of separate pages to deal with rather than bound and folded playing scores. Additionally most amateur operations do not have the skills or possess the equipment needed to turn hundreds of pages of A4 music into stapled books of performing material. The publishers have not lost that much due to IMSLP.

  • Jim says:

    Imslp is very useful in an emergency, lost part etc. No names but…..some music hire libraries rarely answer the phone, are not in london, some not in UK, so when the 2nd ob part goes missing I pray it is on imslp, often my prayers are answered. I haven’t read all the above so my comment may be totally irrelevant!
    Btw……Valse triiste is at best an encore, (that’s coming from a Sibelius fanatic).

  • Julian Rowlands says:

    I wonder how much they paid Vivienne Westwood for those shitty costumes last year? But the publishers are stupid not to take what they are offered given the enormous publicity this event would afford them.

  • Joseph Blow says:

    Norman’s reflexive VPO-bashing blinds him to the real problems caused by the hypertrophy of copyrights, especially in Europe and the USA – and to the fact that the main beneficiaries of (and political forces behind) the extensions are not creative artists but publishers and media conglomerates like Disney. To return to the VPO: the extension of copyright to life plus 70 years may be one reason why they can’t act on one of my wishes, which is that they include a waltz by a woman composer in a New Year’s Concert – e.g., Germaine Tailleferre, from Les Maries de la Tour Eiffel. Tailleferre lived to the 1980s, I believe, so her work will not enter the public domain until the middle of the 21st century.

  • Kyle McKenna says:

    “Valse triste is at best an encore, (that’s coming from a Sibelius fanatic).”

    Good point. An incredibly inventive & catchy melody aside, it could only work within the structure of a NYD concert if offered as counterpoint to predictably upbeat material.

    Great discussion here btw; and I applaud the VPO for not kowtowing to the greedy ‘owners of rights’ which so often (as here) have nothing to do with the inventor, or his heirs.