Slavic Robin Hoods

Editor's comment: This article was first published in our 1993 Catalogue, a document that was distributed for free to several thousand recipients on our mailing list at the time. I post it here, not as an effort to fight old wars that have been forgotten, but to show that the current spate with Dr. Trifunovic is not a new phenomenon for me, but an on-going struggle to protect my work against unconscionable predators. At the time, I informed the Lemoine company of all of this information. Their reaction was to remove the Mikulka edition of this work from the market, and destroy some 5000 copies of it that they printed. That was the correct response on the part of an established publishing company. Would it that modern publishers, in print or on-line, had paid close attention to the general rules of decency existing in our profession.


Slavic Robin Hoods, or Hoodlums?

By Matanya Ophee

Several years ago, (1987 to be precise) at the Esztergom festival, I was approached by a Russian guitarist, one Valerii Agababov, asking me to introduce him to Jack Duarte and act as an interpreter in a conversation. Agababov wanted to present Jack with a copy of an anthology of guitar music edited by him, in which he reproduced the famous English Suite by Duarte.

The existence of this pirate edition, in which no copyright notice or credit was given, came to my attention some years before. I sent a copy of it to Jack and asked him if he knew about this, if permission was granted and did he ever receive any royalties for the Soviet printing of his work. Needless to say, Jack was furious when he found out. He took the matter up with Novello, the original publisher. Unfortunately, nothing could be done, since the Soviet pirate edition was published before the Soviet Union became a party to the international copyright convention in 1975.

I told Agababov in no uncertain terms that I will not introduce him to Jack, and I advised him to make sure that his identity and presence in Esztergom should not be made known to the composer. I did not wish to be a party to what promised to be a very ugly scene.

This was but one example of the lackadaisical attitude practiced by Soviet publishers and their editors towards the question of intellectual property. I suppose that when the Russians did not have direct access to Western sources of guitar music, the moral question of stealing someone else's work, was not as important as the simple fact that if you did not steal it, you could not have it. Today there is no problem of access, but when the average price of a Western edition represents the entire monthly income of a Russian guitarist, the moral and legal niceties of copyright infringement take a back seat to easy profits by unconscionable operators. The political events of the last few years and the drastic inflation which descended upon Russia, brought about a wave of pirate editions sold on the open market. I have seen many issues of works by Morel, Cardoso, Brouwer, Bustamante, and many other Latin-American composers, produced in pirate shops in Moscow and St. Petersburg, sometimes directed by the very same guitarists who travel to the West in search of fame and fortune. Fortunately, the same disregard for author's rights did not extend to other countries which at the time were under the direct influence of the Soviet Union. Of course, you could still buy Soviet and Russian pirate editions in music shops in Budapest, Warsaw and Prague, but to my knowledge, neither the Hungarians, the Poles or the Czechoslovakians themselves ever engaged in wholesale thievery of other people's intellectual property. With some sad exceptions.

One such example which recently came to my attention is the publication by Vladimir Mikulka of the Grandes Variations Op. 6 by Jan Nepomucen de Bobrowicz (1805-1881.) (Editions Lemoine, Paris, 1992 No. 25 388 RE)

The importance of Bobrowicz to the history of the guitar, is something which was not known before I found, in 1975, some editions of his music, in the State Library in Concord, New-Hampshire. Subsequent searches in the Royal Library of Copenhagen, uncovered a great deal more music. It was amazing that music by this important Polish composer could not be found in any Polish library. The attention of Polish guitarists to Bobrowicz came about by the publication by Joseph Powrozniak in 1983 of a large anthology of this music, in which he clearly stated that he received all of it from me. Powrozniak did not publish the Mozart Variations Op. 6, and the Distraction Rondeau Op.17, because I asked him not to do so, as I was planning to publish these two works myself. In preparing the music for publication, I subjected it to rigorous editorial standards, and the rules which I followed in making my editorial changes were clearly spelled out in the prefaces to the editions. In the case of Op. 6, whenever I needed to modify the actual pitch, I inserted footnotes indicating what the original was. I also made many changes in the notation, direction of stems etc. Sometimes these changes were silent, sometimes they were enclosed in square brackets. Quite consciously, I only included in the edition the original fingering given by Bobrowicz, and did not add any of my own. My rationale was that this music is not for the under-equipped. To do it any justice, one must possess a solid and flawless technique. Those guitarists who qualify, could certainly finger it themselves and would not want me to spoon-feed them with my fingering. In any case, there are not too many different ways this music can be fingered. The original notation was quite clear, and left no doubt about the composer's intentions. I blush to admit, I also made a couple of silly mistakes which went unnoticed during the many proof-readings the edition went through by myself and others. Eventually, it was Erik Stenstadvold who spotted the mistakes and brought them to my attention. They have been corrected in the second printing of this work.

Op. 17, somehow, never caught the attention of performers. Op.6 on the other hand, became very soon part and parcel of the standard repertoire. To a large extent, this was due to the fact that a major performer on the caliber of Vladimir Mikulka immediately understood the value of the piece as a virtuoso show stopper, and incorporated it into his repertoire. Op.6 was also a test piece in the Jurkowski Competition in Tychy in 1986, and then again in 1992. The work is well known and to some reviewers' taste, it is even over programmed. Soon enough, it will take its place in the pantheon of rent-a-programme repertoire, alongside this other set of Mozart Variations, Op. 9 by Sor. I should be so lucky ...

Obviously, the music itself is in the public domain, and free for use and republication by anyone. Now comes Mikulka and provides us with a new edition of this work. His edition omits the opus number and presents the work as Grandes Variations sur un duo de Don Juan, de Mozart... Doigtés: Vladimir Mikulka. It does not say that the work was edited, and it leaves the impression that the only change made, to whatever source Mikulka worked from, was the application of a thick layer of fingering. I suppose that those who admire Mikulka's performance of the work, would want to know how he fingered it. The question is: what was the source to which Mikulka applied his fingering? Was it the original 1832 Breitkopf & Hartel Leipzig edition, a copy of which is in the Rischel & Birket-Smith Collection in the Royal Library of Copenhagen, or was it the 1984 edition by Editions Orphée, edited by Matanya Ophee?

I am afraid it was my edition which was used by Mikulka. I know this was so, because not only Mikulka copied all my editorial changes, he also copied my mistakes. In the following examples, I present some of the instances where this occurred. Example A is an image of a passage in the original 1832 edition. Example B is the image of the same passage in my own edition of 1984. Example C is the image of the same in Mikulka's edition.

Theme, measure 2.

A) Original 1832

B) Our 1984 edition

C) Mikulka

The logic for my editorial change here, was that the original was really awkward to perform, at least for me with my short fingers. I also suspected that Bobrowicz may have used here the left-hand thumb to grab the low d# note. With the suspension of the upper F, I did not see it necessary to duplicate it in the bass. My editorial footnote, however, gave the original version for use by those guitarists whose fingers are longer than mine.

Variation 1, m. 12.

A) Original 1832

B) Our 1984 edition

C) Mikulka

The mistake I committed here can perhaps be justified by the fact that the same mistake also occurs in bar 4 of the same variation in the original. The first note of the group cannot be an eighth note, but rather a sixteenth, and Erik Stenstadvold was quite right to point it out.

Variation 2, m. 10.

A) Original 1832

B) Our 1984 edition

C) Mikulka

It seemed to me that the jump to the upper e" note was not in character with Bobrowicz' compositional style, obvious to me from the some 20 different sets of variations he composed and which I have. As a responsible editor, I indicated the original in a footnote. Mikulka copied it exactly, including my editorial change of the notation.

Variation 5, cadenza.

A) Original 1832

B) Our 1984 edition

C) Mikulka

In the original, the first three notes are given in small cue size, and the rest in slightly larger size. In my edition, the entire cadenza is given in the same cue size. True to form, Mikulka seemed to disregard the cadenza nature of the passage and gave it in the same size as the rest of his notation. Obviously, he copied precisely my editorial changes of stem direction of the arpeggio figuration, and the spelling out of a pia as a piacere.

Variation 5, cadenza.

A) Original 1832

B) Our 1984 edition

C) Mikulka

This upper e" occurs towards the end of the cadenza. Did Bobrowicz use here a harmonic note on the 5th fret, or did he play it on the 24th fret of his guitar?

It should be noted that guitars with 24 frets already existed in 1832, made by makers such as Stauffer. Having studied with Giuliani in Vienna, it seems plausible that Bobrowicz may have had access to such guitars. We should observe that the last note in the group is marked with a 0 for open string, a usual indication for natural harmonics at the time. In the original, the high e" is not marked with a 0. Since most guitars today do not have 24 frets, I decided to add the 0 and the editorial suggestion, in square brackets, to play this note as an harmonic note. Both were copied by Mikulka, including the square brackets.

Had Mikulka or his publisher asked for my permission to use my editorial work, I would have agreed, under the proper legal and financial arrangements. Had Mikulka used the original edition and made his own editorial changes to it, there would be nothing I could say. The existence of a duplicate edition on the market, of music which is in the public domain, is something we cannot prevent any time we publish such music. However, my editorial work is not in the public domain. It is my intellectual property and copyright to it was registered in 1984 with the Library of Congress. To take this from me without permission, and to publish it without credit, is the sort of duplicity which belongs to another place, another time. It is sad that a distinguished publishing house such as Edition Henry Lemoine, one of the oldest publishing houses in Europe, has been made, unwittingly and against their better judgment I am sure, a party to such a blatant act of arrogation.

Mikulka should have known quite well what he was doing. I gave him a copy of my edition shortly after its publication and it was from my edition that he has been playing this piece over the last few years. Moreover, after his performance of the piece in the 1987 Toronto Festival, I took him out for a good Pilsner beer, and told him that it was a good performance, but that he must have misunderstood the complex rhythmic structure in some places in variation 5. He got it right in later performances I heard, and also on his recent recording of the piece.

Far be it for me to deny a major performer the right to present the finer intricacies of his technical prowess to an admiring public. But I do deny anybody, however accomplished a performer he may be, the right to steal my work and aggrandize himself at my expense. Responsible guitarists should recognize this type of subterfuge for what it is, and stamp it out from our midst.