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Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Saturday, February 13

Victor Herbert and ASCAP

Synopsis

Today we observe an important anniversary for what we now call “intellectual property.”

On today’s date in 1914, ASCAP—the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers—was founded in New York City. Its first director was the composer Victor Herbert, who, the story goes, once heard a hotel orchestra playing some of his music. Now, you might think Herbert would be pleased, but actually he was furious. His music was supposedly protected by copyright, but Herbert realized he wasn’t receiving royalty payments from the hotel or the performers.

Long before Muzak and other recorded background music, live musical performances in commercial settings like hotels and restaurants were common, but enforcement of copyright law and the collection of royalty payments woefully rare. Helping to found ASCAP was Herbert’s way of improving the chances that his fellow composers, songwriters, lyricists, and music publishers could earn a decent living from their creative works.

Herbert was 55 years old in 1914, and a string of Broadway hits such as “Babes in Toyland” and “Naughty Marietta” had made him the early 20th century equivalent of Stephen Sondheim or Andrew Lloyd Webber – and Herbert would probably be very gratified that both Sondheim and Lloyd Webber would later become ASCAP members themselves.

Music Played in Today's Program

Victor Herbert (1895 - 1924) Hang March, fr Babes in Toyland Razumovsky Symphony; Keith Brion, cond. Naxos 8.559025

Stephen Sondheim (b. 1930) Into the Woods Original Cast; Paul Gemignani, cond. RCA/BMG 6796

Additional Information

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