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.