In 1899 at the ripe age of 18 while in college, Gena Branscombe’s song “For Love’s Abroad in Springtime Eves” was published by the Hatch Music Company of Philadelphia. Imagine….over one hundred years ago, a woman composer had found a publisher to release her song. I try to comprehend that idea and often wonder how she managed to get published for the first time, then, just two years later in 1901, four of her piano pieces were published by the Canadian firm Whaley, Royce and Company. Two different music publishers in two years.
It is difficult to grasp how hard it was for composers, even more so, women composers to be published. Composers submitted their compositions to music publishers who looked at the marketability of the piece, took into consideration the cost of type setting the music, printing, distribution, hopefully it would sell and the composer would earn royalties. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries people purchased sheet music with fancy colorful engaging art work on the cover, families gathered around the piano in the evenings or on weekends where there were sing-a-longs. Entertainment was at home. Sheet music sold!
So who were these companies that published Gena’s music during her lifetime? Twenty two different music publishers printed and sold her 74 choral works, 150+ art songs, 13 piano compositions and 8 instrumental works. They were the premiere music publishers of the day. Impressive, indeed! Did her royalties make her a wealthy woman?……No, they made her a working musician of her day.
Two of her publishers were leaders and pioneers in the industry both having created their own companies specifically to promote American composers.
Arthur Farwell (1872-1952) became one of the most influential composers of our country. He studied with George Chadwick and Englebert Humperdinck. In 1901 in search of a music publisher for his “American Indian Melodies,” he found not one company interested in his compositions. Mr. Farwell went on a personal campaign to assure musicians that American music would be published and thus created his own Wa-Wan Press. The name was derived from a ceremony of the Omaha Indians that honored peace, song and fellowship.
Gena Branscombe and Arthur Farwell met in Chicago during the early 1900’s while she was teaching at the Chicago Musical College. Shortly thereafter he published three of her songs, “Faery Song,” “In a Gondola,” and “Serenade”…the latter two are on my CD. Gena’s study with Englebert Humperdinck in Germany during 1909-1910 was probably the influence of Farwell. He took the risk of publishing a young, up and coming woman composer….a real pioneer who saw that her songs had substance and would catch the hearts of those sheet music buyers!
1910 was a momentous year for composer Gena Branscombe. In August she married John Ferguson Tenney of Methuen, Massachusetts and shortly thereafter the couple moved to New York City where they pursued their respective careers. Music publisher Arthur P. Schmidt of Boston had read publicity about Gena, was impressed by some of her compositions, asked her to submit works for publication, then made a special trip to New York to meet her and finalize the details of a seven-year contract that gave him exclusive rights to publish her music. Not a bad deal for the first year of marriage!
German born Arthur Schmidt (1846-1921) was a trailblazer for American composers and in particular American women composers. In my mind and opinion he broke down barriers, sought out potential that could be developed into the brightest and best. He proved that the word composer had no gender bias to it….a composer is a composer whether man or woman!
What I have found most interesting about Mr. Schmidt is the personal interest he took in his composers. At the Library of Congress in Washington, DC is the entirety of his business records. There are ledger books for sales of each composer’s works, royalties paid, copyright filings, renewals and expirations, inventory listings, files with each individual’s contracts, business documents, pictures of composers, their children, families and concerts where they performed, correspondence from each composer immaculately filed by year, and original scores with the copies of each piece of music the company published. This collection is the history of one of our country’s leading music publishers.
All totaled, Arthur P. Schmidt Music Publisher printed and sold 76 different compositions of Gena Branscombe’s.
Along with my colleague Dr. Laurine Elkins Marlow, I have had the pleasure of reading Gena Branscombe’s letters to Mr. Schmidt. These letters from 1910-1921 were diaries of her musical and family life. There are details of compositions she was writing and how soon she would be able to submit them for publication, discussions of poets and commissions to write pieces. Details of her performances, her children, their distinct personalities and activities as well their musical abilities and piano pieces she had written for them leapt off the page. There is a lovely picture of Gena’s daughter, Gena Tenney, sitting at the piano and whose childhood facial expression is quite resolute with her chin tilted upward. It always broke my heart when I read Gena’s request for an advance on her royalties as one of the daughters was sick and the doctor needed to be paid. Times have not changed!
Her letters to Mr. Schmidt made mention of her colleagues and friends also published by him. There was mention of concerts where Mrs. Beach, Marion Bauer, Mabel Daniels and Gena’s music was performed and hopes of future sales of their works. Gena’s correspondence would request complimentary copies of her songs or choral works be sent to singers and conductors and that those copies be charged against her next royalty payment. These were warm, friendly letters between publisher, friend and composer. I realize that was a different time yet one wishes today we would have this same sense of care, compassion and civility.
It seems pictures of Mr. Arthur Schmidt are rare so I do not have one to put in this blog. Here is a partial list of some of the women composers of Gena’s era who were published by Mr. Schmidt. Pictures of some the women composers are scattered throughout the blog.
Florence Newell Barbour (1866-1946), Marion Bauer (1887-1955),
Mabel Daniels (1878-1971), Helen Hopekirk (1856-1945), Lucinda Jewell (1874-?), Margaret Ruthven Lang (1867-1972), Frances McCollin (1892-1960), Edna Rosalind Park, Olga von Radecki (fl. 1882), Anna Priscilla Risher (1875-1946), Clara Kathleen Rogers (1844-1931), Mildred Weston, Floy Little Bartlett, Mrs. C. F. Chickering, Mary Bradford Crowninshield, and Mary Turner Salter.
As a final thought, I do not want you to think that Schmidt Music Publishing only published women composers. Mr. Schmidt sought out and published the music of Edward MacDowell, John Knowles Paine, Arthur Foote, Carl Bohm and Horatio Parker along with countless other men. A true publisher, patron, business man and promoter of American music. Thank you Mr. Schmidt.