The International Music Score Library Project

An article in today’s New York time by music critic Daniel J. Wakin about the International Music Score Project library (also known as the Petrucci Library), draws attention to this vast digital library of music scores and parts that are in the public domain. That is, these editions of published music are no longer protected by copyright and can be freely downloaded, reproduced and used for whatever purpose.

I have used the IMSLP quite often in the past year, especially after the Euclid Avenue Congregational Church fire, when much of my personal organ music was destroyed. There were many things that I had originally purchased that in subsequent decades have now become public domain, including works by Bach, Franck, Reger, Guilmant, and many others. Among other things that church choirs use all the time are the G. Schirmer scores of standard choral works: Messiah, Elijah, Brahms’ Requiem, etc. Debussy’s works are now all in public domain (in the same Durand editions that you can pay through the nose for), as are many of the works of Sibelius and Mahler. Most of the operas by Puccini are there, as are the operas of Verdi and Wagner, often in multiple editions.

The NYTimes article points out that the public domain scores are old and don’t have the benefit of modern scholarship that might be available in new editions. But often new editions don’t provide great value (or at least not as great a value as their editors might have us believe.). While the music of Johann Sebastian Bach has had much valuable scholarship since the Bach Gesellschaft Edition was published in the 1800s, there is not a lot of recent work on Guilmant or Reger. Sometimes I just want to look at a score and then later decide to purchase it. There is value added by having a professionally printed and bound score. Some of the scores in the IMSLP are available commercially through such publishers as Dover and Kalmus.

Whether you’re a poor student, interested amateur or professional musician needing a quick look at at a standard repertoire work, the IMSLP is an invaluable resource.

One thought on “The International Music Score Library Project

  1. Dear Tim,

    In 1986, John Herr and I attended your noon-hour recital. I was spellbound by anyone’s ability to play Distler’s Chorale Variations on Nun Komm. I recall you doing it expertly. Many times after that, I would come to play that magnificent Wilhelm organ, usually heading into Gratian Nugent, but missing Karl Wilhelm and Peter Herford by mere days! I also knew the donor of the organ, and am still life-long friends of his granddaughter. I once recorded myself on the Wilhelm using my old Sony reel-to-reel machine.

    I’m in the process of having the tape transferred to CD. If you have any interest, I will gladly send you a copy, but I don’t know if any recordings of the Wilhelm were ever made. After I do some editing, it should be all right. Just let me know your mailing address.

    When I come back to Cleveland to visit my mother, I now play the Rieger at Christ Church. Its detached console contributes to the blend so well, but it was such a loss to lose the Wilhelm.

    Sincerely, Paul Gockel (formerly of Cleveland; now in Port Carling, Ontario)

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