By Theo Wyatt
(Theo Wyatt founded Merton Music 15 years ago with aims very similar to those of iMSLP, and now in his 90th year has handed the baton to John Harding’s Ourtext orgnisation. Its 1300 string chamberworks are currently being uploaded to the Petrucci Library as part of the Merton Music Project)
I recently received an e-mail from an old customer who recognised me from the days 25 years ago when I publisheed recorder consort music. He expressed his pleasure at seeing the string chamber music of Merton Music on the IMSLP site, but wondered why it was all in double-page booklet pagination making it accessible only to those with A3 printers.
I suspect the same question will have crossed the mind of many IMSLP visitors over the last six months as Carolus and his team have uploaded most of the 1300 works in the Merton Music catalog, every one of them in this inaccessible form. They may be interested in my reply.
“Before I explain to you a little of the economics of music publishing I think you should go back to IMSLP, find a Merton item and click on the words “Merton Music Project.” That will tell you about how the Merton files come to be on the IMSLP site.
“Those files are in A3 booklet pagination because they are Merton’s working files, used to print the music it sells. They have in most cases never existed in A4 format and it would be utterly impracticable to turn them into A4 files.
“Even if we could we would not do so because Merton Music, although inspired by altruistic motives is not a charity. It is a business with nothing more than the resources of a pensioner behind it. If it does not sell enough music to make enough profit to cover all its costs it shuts up shop and the many customers without broadband who rely on it for really affordable music are the losers. So unless each order lost to people with A3 printers is offset by an order from one of the many others without such printers who see music they want and order it from Ourtext, the future of Ourtext becomes less secure and the whole chamber music community may suffer. So do not risk losing your friends by putting unmanageable heaps of A4 on their music stands but treat them to a properly printed set of parts ordered from Ourtext and help to guarantee the future availability of Merton Music at the same time.”
There was, however, a further motive, not touched on in that reply, behind the decision to make Merton’s A3 files publicly available. I wanted to demonstrate that an alternative to transmitting instrumental music in single A4 or Letter size pages did exist and perhaps even to awaken realisation that downloading and using it in that form was really rather primitive and unsatisfactory, especially if reasonably priced and properly printed alternatives were available. In a long lifetime of chamber music I have found that on a music stand the parts of a string quartet in that form are unmanageable, and that attempts to make then manageable with adhesive tape, plastic sleeves or comb binding are tedious, and the results still unsatisfactory. The only way to ensure a comfortable experience for the player is with a double spread folded to make a booklet, and the only way to procure that is with an A3 printer.
I am sure that for this reason A3 printers will one of these days be as common in musicians’ households as A4 printers are now. Until then I think the wise amateur will always consider whether the attractions of a free A4 download outweigh the comfort of a paid-for and properly printed booklet.