Richard Strauss is almost out of royalties

Richard Strauss is almost out of royalties


norman lebrecht

April 01, 2019

The composer died on September 8, 1949. From the end of this year, his works will be out of copyright.

According to Kurier, each performance of Der Rosenkavalier at the Vienna State Opera chings up 15,000 Euros to the Strauss estate. There have been 1,000 Rosenkavaliers in Vienna alone. Not to mention Salome, Elektra, Ariadne auf Naxos and all those Lieder.

The composer’s heirs will have to start tightening their belts at Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

Losing out even more massively is the publisher Boosey&Hawkes, which took over managing rights in Strauss’s works outside Germany in September 1939 and have been rolling merrily along ever since.


  • Erich says:

    And about time too! It is high time that the legendary and obstructive greed of both publishers and the Strauss family came to an end.

    • Chuck says:

      Envy is the only deadly sin one can’t enjoy. Why not pick one that you can have some fun with (gluttony, sloth, pride, etc.)? If you’re right about the publishers and the Strauss family, consider how much fun they must be having. Let them enjoy what’s theirs while it is theirs; you’ll own it soon.

    • Novagerio says:

      “Obstructive greed of the family”(??) – incidentally,
      one of the great-grandchildren is a bicycle dealer, the store is called “Pedalo”, it’s down in the village and he and his family live in the annex behind the villa…

    • K says:

      Copyright and royalties terms are determined by statute, not by heirs to anyone’s estate.

      • Bill says:

        The pricing isn’t determined by statute! The copyright holders have substantial control over the terms offered while the work is in copyright, as any reasonable individual would expect. Some may be more interested in making the work accessible, others may want to get every last penny by charging a high price (though a lower price and more performances might be better).

        Why shouldn’t the Strauss estate make hay while the sun yet shines? Don’t buy tickets or program it if you think the price isn’t right.

    • FS60103 says:

      It’s called copyright and it’s enforced by international law. Nothing to do with publishers or family.

      • David Hilton says:

        Actually, it’s enforced by national law, but otherwise you’re correct. (Members of the WTO are required to enact minimum copyright terms of protection into their national laws).

  • RW2013 says:

    But B and H still have Brett Dean, so where’s the problem?

  • Caravaggio says:

    His musical output is now world patrimony and that is a good thing.

  • John Rook says:

    Despite reasonably-priced Schott piano scores being available in Germany, I remember paying through the nose for B&H Salome and Elektra in Paris twenty years ago, sums which are still eye-watering to this day. Fifty years is enough for hangers-on to benefit from Strauss’s genius, now give it a rest.

    • K says:

      There most likely will not be any appreciable price decline in the printed music of any Strauss works due to the expiration in the copyrights. Urtext editions of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven are very expensive, and to the best of my knowledge the composers mentioned, and their estates–if they could even possibly exist–don’t receive a dime of that purchase price. Now, if you’re desperate to get your hands on a copyright-expired work of Strauss, you will be able to go to a library and copy it legally, or download from an online repository, also legally. Interestingly, I did a cost/quality comparison of printing a work from home. It cost me slightly less and the quality was not up to the standard that most publishers adhere to. One would need a full-fledged printing operation to get close to that quality. Is this an absolute; no, of course not. But vilifying music publishers in this case is an exercise in futility. Save the finger-pointing for when they do something really egregious.

      • Bill says:

        Obtaining the music itself may not be any cheaper, but you won’t have to pay performance fees, presumably.

        The cost of better Urtext editions is driven by research costs, printing costs, etc. and not payment to the composer’s estate. Also, European law gives less copyright duration to Urtext editions so the publishers cannot count on the same revenue stream longevity that they might otherwise enjoy. But if you don’t feel you are getting value for your money by purchasing from Bärenreiter, Henle, etc. instead of a cheap reprint, you may not be their intended market.

        • K says:

          “But if you don’t feel you are getting value for your money by purchasing from Bärenreiter, Henle, etc. instead of a cheap reprint, you may not be their intended market.”

          First, I purchase music from numerous publishers. I have many Urtext editions and they are as plagued by errors, poor printing, poor binding, etc., as reprint outfits. Sorry, with all due respect to the publishers you mentioned, none of these entities is perfect. (Bärenreiter has gone almost exclusively to computer music notation, Finale/Sibelius. It’s incredibly easy to miss things with these programs.)

          “The cost of better Urtext editions is driven by research costs, printing costs, etc. and not payment to the composer’s estate.”

          Well, of course not, Urtext editions are the music of dead composers. (Please correct if you know of otherwise.) They (Urtext publishers) haven’t paid a nickel to anyone’s estate in decades.

      • James Norris says:

        The last living relative of Beethoven died on the Somme during the Great War and Mozart’s last surviving son died in the 1850s so no estates to pay.

        • David Hilton says:

          Copyright royalties are paid to the rights owners, often corporations, who may have purchased the copyrights. They are seldom paid to the heirs of the authors and composers. And those heirs may not be lineal descendants at all. So knowing something about a composer’s son or grand-daughter tells you little about who can claim copyright in that composer’s works.

          The lineal descendants of a composer can, however, exercise the ‘moral rights’ of the composer, to object to performances of the work that negatively impact the honour and reputation of the composer. These rights remain with the family, regardless of who owns copyright (in those countries which recognise such rights.)

    • SVM says:

      The principle behind the old “life+50” copyright term was that it should provide for two generations of heirs (e.g.: children and grandchildren). The reason it was lengthened to “life+70” is because people tend to have children later than once upon a time. Assuming that life expectancy stays reasonably constant, “life+50” implies an (arithmetic mean) average childbearing age of 25, which is absurdly young by modern standards (if we factor-in increasing life expectancy over the generations, the childbearing age would need to be *lower* than 25).

      An (arithmetic mean) average childbearing age of 35, as implied by “life+70”, seems a far more reasonable generalisation in this day and age. Of course, it is a crude generalisation, but that is probably preferable to requiring everybody to carry-out exhaustive genealogical research to ascertain whether or not something is still in copyright (and besides, many people do not have children, but may wish to provide for relatives, friends, or good causes after their death). It is also crude that copyright expires at the end of the calendar year irrespective of the actual deathday, but I suppose that has the advantage of avoiding ambiguity from arising if the exact date/time of death were uncertain/disputed (and anybody who has read the legendary lexicographer Slonimsky’s accounts of his research will be well aware of just how many inaccuracies there are, even in such august publications as /Grove/).

  • John Borstlap says:

    Copyright laws were created to compensate for the disappearance of patronage of composers. But they also created barriers for performances, which – together with modernism – helped much to separate the regular performance culture (based upon copyright-free works) from contemporary music, and stimulated the development of state subsidy systems for new works. Ironically, Strauss was much involved in the setting-up of copyright law in Germany, and got rich with his symphonic poems and his early operas (till and including Rosenkavalier). But he lost his fortune in the 1st World War because he had parked it at a London bank, where it got confiscated. He began again building-up a fortune after the war, and lost it again with WW II because money started from scratch when the Reich had dissolved. Living on charity in a Swiss hotel, and old and depressed, with a wife who filled her lonely days with quarrelling with staff, he had much to think about and wrote his last songs.

    • K says:

      Very interesting. Could you point to sources that discuss/confirm your opening sentences. Thanks

      • erich says:

        Just ask orchestras, opera houses, festivals and record companies….

      • John Borstlap says:

        As for the opening sentences: nobody ever discussed these developments because nobody thought about them. But practice confirms them abundantly. Performing a new work today means a whole list of ‘risks’ and probes into the artistic insecurities of performers and staff; royalties is one of the more concrete items on the list taken from the cupboard when reasons are needed to not perform a work. (‘There should be a special occasions for this…. the special marketing efforts burden the budget…. and then we have to pay royalties as well…… there will be mistakes in the orchestral parts…… there is not enough rehearsel time….. we don’t have a serpent and the glockenspiel has two keys missing…. tne envil is on loan to Boston…..’ etc. etc.)

        I once experienced when a piece of mine was premiered, that the lady responsible for the marketing complained: ‘It would be so much easer if we hadn’t this new piece on the program’. Obviously, pressures on orchestras make programming something still unkown a very uncomfortable exercise, so I would think the less unnecessary barriers, the better; therefore I am for patronage and commissions
        instead of royalties.

        • James says:

          You misunderstood. They said ‘It would be so much easier if we hadn’t HIS new piece on the program’

          • John Borstlap says:

            Does that make any difference? The lady in question always made such complaints about programming because it made her work more difficult. Marketing Beethoven and Mahler is run-of-the-mill. So, imagine a GP complaining that every day patients were knocking on his practice, or an MP about having to vote all the time about brexit plans, or a RC priest getting irritated about all those masses to be read.

  • May says:

    The estate doesn’t sweep up 15k per performance: the fees are split between the composer, librettist and publisher, which is standard practice. Nonetheless, that’s still a lot of money, for which we have Mickey Mouse to thank for our current royalty laws.

    “Richard Strauss’ Werke werden in allen großen Opernhäusern weltweit aufgeführt, wofür die Nachfahren durchschnittlich 13 bis 17 Prozent der Einnahmen durch den Kartenverkauf erhalten. Das sind pro Vorstellung an der Wiener Staatsoper rund 15.000 Euro, die sich die Erben nach Strauss mit denen seines Textdichters Hugo von Hofmannsthal und dem betreffenden Musikverlag zu je einem Drittel teilen müssen.”

  • Will Duffay says:

    Edition Peters have the copyright to Also Sprach, which since Kubrick used it has been a very necessary source of income and has enable it to support many other composers.

    • Frank Billack says:

      Publishers who are losing major copyrights like the Strauss pieces, have to find other composers to make up the lost income.

  • anon says:

    Simple, all Strauss’s heirs have to do is to write a new opera, lol.

    How inconsiderate of the old man, he should’ve left a few unpublished scores in a trunk so that his heirs could affix their names to them.

    Which of course begs the question: Would today’s musical ethos appreciate a newly discovered Strauss score but published under someone else’s name? (I.e., is it like a Picasso, it only has value because it has Picasso’s signature on it, not because it is by and looks exactly like a Picasso?)

    • John Borstlap says:

      A good question…. but given the way music life is run, with a preference to wrapping paper over content (which is much more difficult to asses), something like a second Rosenkavalier – different in nature but as good – would go unnoticed. It would be considered too long, derivative of Strauss, too oldfashioned, and thus superfluous. Many people cultivating and celebrating ‘the canon’, would be the same type of people who would prefer Wagenseil and Salieri over Mozart, condemn Beethoven for being bombastic and tiring, thinking Raff a far greater talent than Brahms, be certain that Wagner was mentally deranged, and rejecting Debussy for lacking any talent for form and melody.

    • David K. Nelson says:

      Supposedly rough sketches of a violin concerto were found on Strauss’s work desk when he passed away.

  • moonpavilion says:

    I seem to recall publishers renewing the copyright of certain Rachmaninov pieces. How does that work?

    • Bruce says:

      I’m not sure, but IIRC the Gershwin estate did it too.

    • John Borstlap says:

      If works are posthumously written, the copyright period is extended.

      • Wai Kit Leung says:

        Are there any examples of posthumously written works?

      • Posthumous composers just don’t know when to quit.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Don’t forget it’s very difficult to compose posthumously, because one has to live posthumously as well.

      • David Hilton says:

        This is not correct. Copyright — in all countries — exits from the moment that the composition is ‘fixed’ in a tangible means of expression; either written in a score or embodied in software, or recorded, or filmed. But the term of that copyright is for the life of the author + 70 years, regardless of when the work was composed. A newly discovered work by Mozart has no copyright protection.

        The copyright period is not extended in cases of posthumously published or performed works.

        The only extension to the standard term of copyright that is commonly recognised — in Europe, the US, Japan — is for individuals, usually soldiers such as St. Exupery, who fought in either of the world wars. This is on the theory that they lost 6 years or so of the time that they might have otherwise enjoyed the right to exploit their copyright.

    • Will Duffay says:

      The two world wars weren’t included in calculations of copyright for French musical works, so I understand, so Ravel was in copyright longer than he would have been. And in fact I believe he went out and then came back again after a French legal ruling in 1985.

    • The Original Anon says:

      Didn’t Stravinsky do that as well? I once heard that that’s why we have a couple of different versions of Firebird. Stravinsky wanted to renew the copyright so he revised the old edition and took out a new copyright.

      • John Borstlap says:

        No, he made a 20′ suite of the best bits of the Firebird somewhere around 1920.

        Petrushka was revised in the fourties for more usual (smaller) forces, since the original 1911 version is for a hughe orchestra (and it is better).

        The Sacre was revised later-on because of some notational problems which have never been solved to the composer’s satisfaction.

      • David Hilton says:

        This example relates to a different kind of copyright extension, a renewal term, as provided in the old (pre-1979) US system of copyright which — modelled on the British Statute of Anne (1710) — awarded copyright for an initial term of protection, usually 28 years, and then permitted a second term of equal length if the author (or any rights owner who had acquired the copyright), filed a notice of renewal.

        The practice of revising an old edition is a separate issue. There the author or composer obtained a full term of protection in the new work. Not an extension. But this did not prevent anyone from performing the original work, as originally copyrighted, if its term of protection had expired. At that point, anyones is entitled to make their own revision and claim copyright in their own Stravinsky adaptation. Even if Stravinsky were still alive to object.

        There is now no longer any incentive for composers to go to such lengths, as all of their compositions will enjoy the same term of copyright protection: life + 70 years. And all of their works will fall into the public domain at the same moment, as will happen to Herr Strauss on the last day of this year.

  • Edgar says:

    “…was drum und dran hängt, ist mit dieser Stund’ vorbei.”

  • This expiration of copyright is only for Europe which observes life + 70 years (life + 80 in Belarus and Spain) .

    For the USA, works of Strauss that were published in or after 1923 will become PD on the January 1 after the 95th anniversary of their publication.

    Works published before 1923 were already PD in the US.

    • Vance Koven says:

      This is essentially correct, though as of 1 January 2019 (going by date of publication, not composition) the year 1923 has been liberated from copyright in the US. Barring another term extension, each year hereafter will add another year to the PD in the US. For Strauss, anything after Trenner Catalogue 245 would currently be under US copyright, with the Four Last Songs not fading from protection until 1 January 2044 (assuming they were also published in 1948, the year of composition). There’s a slightly different computation for unpublished works.

    • MacroV says:

      Yes. I remember playing Death and Transfiguration years ago, and the orchestra owned the parts so I assume no rental or royalties. Same with the 1st horn concerto. But when we played the 2nd Horn Concerto, that was rental (so was Alpine Symphony, which was written in 1915, I think).

      $15,000 for a royalty seems like a lot (and would that be true of any major opera house where Rosenkavalier is still in copyright?), but in most major houses it’s probably less than the fee for most of the solo singers. Should whoever sings the Marschallin receive more than Strauss?

    • David Hilton says:

      Not exactly correct here. The term of copyright protection in literary and artistic works has been harmonised across Europe now for over 20 years. While Spain, Portugal, and Germany all had historically provided longer terms of copyright, they now all accord precisely the same protection to composers as every other EU country. Life + 70 years. No more, no less. The USA and many Commonwealth countries followed suit, accepting the arguments that had been advanced by Europe for longer terms of protection (not simply ‘to protect Mickey Mouse’ as one commentator above suggests). On the international level, all member states of the World Trade Organisation (ie, virtually all countries of the world), agree by virtue of their WTO membership to protect copyright for a minimum of 50 years after the death of the author or composer.

  • jaime herrera says:

    Puccini’s third piano concerto in D flat minor will be public property in 2021, in case anyone is interested.

  • Hilary says:

    I was under the impression that the copyright for Also Sprach (publ.Peters ed) expired awhile back and coincided with the publishing house taking on composers like Jonathan Dove who would make quicker returns than say Brian Ferneyhough, who they also publish.

    • Frank says:

      The copyright for Also Sprach expired in the US a number of years ago. It will expire in Europe on January 1, 2020. Of course, it will still be under copyright in a few countries after January 1, like in Spain. It will be a big loss for the Strauss family and the publishers of Richard Strauss. Strauss brings in a lot of money for Boosey and Peters. The problem for the publishers in finding composers who will replace this lost income. Peters has been looking for a number of years but it is hard to replace the income Strauss brought in. Unfortunately, when Glass and Reich were starting out in the 1970’s and 1980’s, Peters did not go after them. These were decisions made by the publishing staff at the time.

  • BrianB says:

    How is that Dover was able to publish a vocal score of Die Frau ohne Schatten in 2003, and full scores of Rosenkavalier and Ariadne? No apparent license credit from B&H. They were reasonably priced, I’ve always thought the B&H charges for Strauss scores and especially the Britten catalogue were highway robbery. Though the Masterworks Library was a small step in the right direction.
    But then, Strauss made his views on publishers abundantly clear in his Der Krämerspiegel.

  • Kolb Slaw says:

    Don’t worry, I’m sure they have new editions coming out just in time. What’s odd is how awful all their younger composers are and have been. They still have many years left with Leonard Bernstein and some with Bartok. Strauss was the top earner in 1985, about $45,000, followed by Bartok at $40,000, Copland at $35,000, and Ginastera at $28,000 due mostly to his Harp Concerto, which was mostly performed by Heidi Lehwalder. I know. I saw the records. That does not include rental fees, only performance and grand rights for the USA.

  • Richard says:

    So is Strauss’ work now in the public domain, seeing as he died in September 1949 and we are now in October 2019?

    Or do we have to wait until the year is out and it is 2020 before it can be used without royalties etc.

  • Inquiring Mind says:

    Maybe someone here can answer this for me.

    Does US copyright expire for works like Arabella that were written after 1924? Of course, the old favorites Rosenkavalier and Ariadne date to well before that year. However, as an engraver who often typesets alternative editions of these, I’d like to know if I could finally tackle a couple bits of Arabella.

  • Ah but in collaborative works where a librettist is involved for example Four last songs – Herman Hess died in the 60’s
    so copyright is still ongoing.