Of the dozens of family-run music publishers that flourished in Paris in the early twentieth century, only a handful remain, including Editions Enoch et Cie and Editions Lemoine. Both of these houses, over one hundred and two hundred years old, respectively, have survived, in part, by specializing in the music of French composers, and by forging close personal relationships with living musicians whose works they publish. In addition to selling print copies of their editions, they rent instrumental parts of their published orchestral scores and charge fees when their editions are used for public performances. Given the drastic decline of Paris’s once-vigorous print music publishing industry, musicians will be heartened to learn that a relatively recent addition to this dwindling cadre of publishers, the eponymous Bureau de Musique Mario Bois, is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary.

In 1979, Jacques Barzun wrote an introduction for the Da Capo Press reprint of Cecil Hopkinson’s Dictionary of Parisian Music Publishers, self-published by the author in London in 1954. Even knowing Barzun’s extraordinarily catholic interests, his panegyric on the deeply obscure Hopkinson and his Dictionary seems peculiar until one realizes how vital Hopkinson’s earlier Berlioz Bibliography was to Barzun’s magisterial two-volume treatment of the composer, published in 1950.

“He retained intellectual independence and full freedom for his imagination.”

Barzun describes how Hopkinson, loath to apply his education in engineering to his family’s construction business, established himself as the proprietor of First Editions Books in London. Here he sold first editions of scores, and books about music, while working assiduously on catalogues and bibliographies of editions of works by Gluck, Puccini, and other musicians. Barzun described Hopkinson’s lifework as “exemplifying the tradition of amateur scholarship—‘amateur’ meaning, of course, neither haphazard nor careless, but merely non-academic.” Without the baggage of an academic training in music, “he retained intellectual independence and full freedom for his imagination.”

Hopkinson documented 550 music publishers operating in Paris between 1700 and 1950. Unlike in Germany, where music publishers were distributed in cities throughout the country, in unitary-state France music publishers were concentrated in Paris. Until the professionalization of the industry in the early nineteenth century, French music publishing houses were uncommonly promiscuous, offering, in addition to printed music, instruments, pictures, stationery, and in one case lingerie.

Beginning in the early twentieth century, the juggernaut of the music sound-recording industry gradually decimated the ranks of printed music publishers worldwide. Several of the most prominent French music publishing houses, like Durand and Salabert, survived by consolidating. Even these houses ultimately persevered only through acquisition by the American conglomerate Universal Music, their commercial significance now sadly inconsequential compared to that of the dozens of record labels generating Universal’s profits.

The ineluctable development of audio recording technology, particularly in the latter half of the twentieth century, engendered not only galloping musical illiteracy but also the nearly universal passive “consumption” of musical works from recorded performances. These developments devitalized hundreds of small music print publishers and sellers in European and American cities. At once-venerated shops like Patelson’s in New York and Byron Hoyt in San Francisco, educated (i.e., literate) musicians used to spend hours silently perusing unfamiliar scores, perhaps quietly humming a passage here and there—as Oliver Sacks reports his father did, between appointments with patients, conjuring performances by reading miniature scores of symphonic works. Even these institutions have folded; today musicians buy their scores online, in isolation. While the internet and digital technologies have made it easier to locate not only printed scores of esoteric works but also “virtual” scores that are marvelously manipulable, they too have contributed to the desuetude of these brick-and-mortar musical havens.

I met Mario Bois thirty years ago while I was a graduate student in musicology. I had transcribed what was identified as an unpublished autograph sketch of Souvenir d’Aix, a suite of waltzes by Jacques Offenbach, which I came across in Stanford’s underappreciated Memorial Library of Music. The late conductor and Offenbach promoter Antonio d’Almeida put me in touch with Bois, who published my transcription. Offenbach’s charming suite has now been heard—likely for the first time, as Offenbach never drafted a complete score from which the work could be performed—through performances and recordings made possible by Bois’ publication of my transcription.

Attempting to locate Mario Bois’ Bureau de Musique in Paris, I realized why there is no French phrase for “city block.” None of the taxi drivers who drove me to my handful of visits there was familiar with Rue de Rocroy, a crooked sliver of a street in a neighborhood west of the Gare du Nord. More than once I was horribly late, having located No. 19 only after a good deal of re-consulting maps, and retracing steps. On one occasion Bois, invariably gracious but undoubtedly chagrinned by my unpunctual arrival, gave me a copy of his most recent book, Beethoven et l’hymne de l’Europe, inscribing a dedication comprising a compliment followed by “et à la fois un homme insupportable.” Liliane Segura-Marie, Bois’ soignée aide-de-camp, always greeted me warmly, humoring my clumsy spoken French while leading me through a warren of bookshelves en route to his office, which was overflowing with books, scores, pictures, and cigarette smoke.

Bois has written over twenty books, about musicians, painters, and dancers—including Stravinsky and Nureyev, both of whom he knew well. Stravinsky, who had been an American citizen and Los Angeles resident since 1945, often visited Paris during the 1960s. The Paris branch of Stravinsky’s publisher, Boosey & Hawkes, assigned Bois, then a young employee of the firm, to join Stravinsky’s entourage during his sojourns in Paris. Through this assignment Bois became acquainted with not only Stravinsky and his second wife, Vera, but also his wide circle of friends and collaborators, including Picasso, Artur Rubenstein, and Jean Cocteau. Most significantly, he befriended Rudolf Nureyev, the dancer who remained in Paris after his dramatic defection from the Soviet Union, accomplished at Paris’s Le Bourget airport in 1961. Nureyev was close to Claire Motte, an étoile at the Ballet de l’Opéra national de Paris, and later, under Nureyev’s leadership, its ballet mistress. In 1964 she married Bois; they had two sons during their twenty-two years together until Motte’s untimely death from cancer in 1986.

In 1987, with Mikhail Gorbachev’s permission, Nureyev had visited Moscow for the first time in twenty-five years.

In 1989, Nureyev broached with Bois plans for a new full production of Bayadère. Bois informed Nureyev that he would be unable to publish an edition of the music for Nureyev’s arrangement of the ballet because Ludwig Minkus’s complete score was available only at the Mariinsky and Bolshoi theaters. In 1987, however, with Mikhail Gorbachev’s permission, Nureyev had visited Moscow for the first time in twenty-five years. And although his visit to the Soviet Union was limited to forty-eight hours, he managed to obtain a photocopy of the Bolshoi’s complete score for Bayadère, which he presented to Bois after pitching his idea for a new production of the ballet. Nureyev, however, or whoever operated the photocopier at the Bolshoi, had made horizontal copies of vertically oriented pages, thereby lopping off significant portions of Minkus’s score. Also, and in a classic Soviet moment, the toner of the photocopier was exhausted before Nureyev completed the job, so the music on the pages toward the end of the run was barely legible.

Upon confronting the chaotic sheaf Nureyev proffered, Bois summoned his friend John Lanchbery, who joined Nureyev and Bois, puzzling for innumerable hours through hundreds of sketchy pages to re-assemble Minkus’s score. Lanchbery, a former music director of the American Ballet Theatre, had arranged and re-orchestrated the music for well-known ballets including Giselle and Don Quixote, as well as that of dozens of other works which he converted to ballets, including operas like Lehár’s Merry Widow. He had also collaborated with Natalia Makarova, who, in 1980, directed at abt the first complete Bayadère performed outside the Soviet Union. According to The Washington Post, when Makarova appealed to pre-Perestroika Soviets for a copy of Minkus’s full score, she got nowhere. Fortunately for her, a decade earlier Harvard’s Houghton Library had acquired the Sergejev Collection, an enormous trove of documents relating to Russian ballet of the late imperial period. It contains Sergejev’s manuscript of the complete dance score, which documents Petipa’s choreography for Bayadère, as well as a repetiteur’s score in which Minkus’s music is reduced to an arrangement for two violins. Makarova and Lanchbery used these sources, as well as Makarova’s recollections from her performances years earlier of an abbreviated version of the ballet at the Kirov, to cobble together a score for her full-length production.

Lanchbery subsequently wrote an arrangement based upon the reconstituted Minkus score, which was used in Nureyev’s acclaimed production of Bayadère, first performed in 1992 by the Opéra national de Paris. Bois published this, and many other Lanchbery scores, that are still widely used by ballet companies today. (One often encounters the names Lanchbery and Bois in the programs for abt performances.) Nureyev designated Bois executor of the rights to his choreographic works, and Bois’ firm continues to manage the performance rights and associated royalties for Nureyev’s revised choreographies for Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and many other ballets.

The variety of musical works published and sold by Mario Bois’ Bureau de Musique reflects the wide-ranging artistic curiosity of its founder, but particularly his dedication to ballet and works by relatively unknown French composers. In 2016, recognizing Bois’ decades of entrepreneurship promoting the performing arts in France, the French Cultural Ministry designated him, among a distinguished cohort including Yo Yo Ma and Marion Cotillard, an Officer of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Now on the brink of his ninetieth birthday, Bois is retired, having relocated from his home near the Palais Garnier to Bordeaux. Thierry Fouquet, a former director of the Opéra National de Bordeaux, now heads Bois’ Bureau de Musique, which has also relocated, thirty miles south from its raffish neighborhood in Paris’s Tenth Arrondissement, to Boissettes, a leafy suburb on the Seine.

Unlike the dozens of long-established music publishers and music shops in Paris that folded during the twentieth century, Bois’ Bureau de Musique, founded in the 1970s, has survived because its mission is grounded by the concinnities of the specialized interests of its founder in music, visual art, and dance. Bois once mentioned to me that his affection for Paris was based on its human scale (unlike New York, where I was living at the time) that allowed one to be aware of the city’s modulating “poetic rhythm.” The human scale of Bois’ enterprise, delineated by the topics and related artifacts of his eclectic but focused curiosity, provides a similar foundation. It has always been more an oeuvre de l’esprit than a tangible creation and, as such, is contingent upon an ongoing appreciation of its founder’s artistic sensibilities and curatorial finesse. As he, and his Bureau de Musique, turn ninety and fifty respectively, I wish them both joyeux anniversaire et longévité.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 39 Number 6, on page 75
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