Frank Music Company was New York’s last sheet music shop. On a tenth floor of 54th Street, the shop opened in 1937 and closed its doors on February 6, 2015. The owner, Heidi Rogers, was behind the counter cluttered with enormous cardboard boxes until the last day. That final day, the shop was full of old friends, of reporters and musicians. “You think this is the worst day, but for me it is a relief. The worst days were those on which nobody came in and I was sitting here for hours and hours.”

The main reason for the closure is online sales. Today it is very easy to buy musical scores on Amazon or on the free pages of music in the public domain, such as IMSLP. During the good old days, Frank Music Company would receive 20 clients a day. In recent days there were no more than two of three a day. An anonymous donor bought all the sheet music in the shop and donated it to the Colburn School Music Conservatory in Los Angeles.

The history of printed music runs parallel to that of the book. During the Middle Ages music was copied and illustrated by hand. The first machine that could print music appeared 20 years after Gutenberg’s press and was invented by Ottaviano Petrucci and the first printed music it produced was Harmonice Musices Odhecaton, with pieces by Josquin des Prez and Heinrich Isaac. The effect of printed music was similar to that of literature. Suddenly it was much cheaper and easier to have your own printed music at home and there was a proliferation of music fans and musical maestros. Thanks to that, publishers of printed music flourished during the 18th and 19th centuries in Germany, where Breitkopf & Härtel published Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann and Wagner. Classical and popular music scores sold by the thousands of copies.

And then the radio and record player appeared and overnight it was not necessary to play music live to listen to it, or to provide accompaniment to parties. Sales dropped drastically. With the arrival of the Internet, musical score stores that still survived at the end of the 20th century suddenly closed their doors forever.

Small bookstores such as Frank and Company, which were a kind of specialized bookshop, had a difficult time surviving in the age of online sales. People use the Internet to search for specific things while people go to bookstores to browse, to search for ideas. Even though people often requested musical scores by phone, Frank and Company also had a series of shelves for those who visited the bookstore. When bookstores disappear so do booksellers, like Heidi; those characters that know about books (in this case music and scores) but also the art of suggesting and recommending. Characters who, after having exchanged no more than two words with you, they read you and can guess what you want, even before you know it yourself.

Roland Barthes talks of the importance of the piano in his life in his text Piano Mémoire, in which he says the piano for him is also literature. He remembers the music room where there was a shelf of bound scores, and among which was Beethoven’s sonatas annotated by his aunt, who had carefully marked the melodic developments of each movement. Barthes recognized her handwriting, large and neat. In Schumann’s Album für die Jugend the notes were in a freer handwriting, that of his grandmother when she was a child, more than one hundred years previously, and who had written the hands for each note. For Barthes, those scores are a testament of musical culture. He says that scores are also texts in which the generations of his family are registered. Because instruments, like furniture, are often passed down. And with those comes the possibility that that culture is also inherited.

Every time I go back to the shelves of my room and see the scores and the piano I think about my grandmother, like Barthes. I remember her long hands playing a gavotte by memory. When I open certain Beethoven scores I can see her fingers playing the notes. As with books, scores have a value as objects that go beyond their content. While photocopies and prints get tatty and are lost, the bound scores last and, with them, the memory.

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By Jazmina Barrera, @jaztronomia

Frank Music Company was New York’s last sheet music shop. On a tenth floor of 54th Street, the shop opened in 1937 and closed its doors on February 6, 2015. The owner, Heidi Rogers, was behind the counter cluttered with enormous cardboard boxes until the last day. That final day, the shop was full of old friends, of reporters and musicians. “You think this is the worst day, but for me it is a relief. The worst days were those on which nobody came in and I was sitting here for hours and hours.”

The main reason for the closure is online sales. Today it is very easy to buy musical scores on Amazon or on the free pages of music in the public domain, such as IMSLP. During the good old days, Frank Music Company would receive 20 clients a day. In recent days there were no more than two of three a day. An anonymous donor bought all the sheet music in the shop and donated it to the Colburn School Music Conservatory in Los Angeles.

The history of printed music runs parallel to that of the book. During the Middle Ages music was copied and illustrated by hand. The first machine that could print music appeared 20 years after Gutenberg’s press and was invented by Ottaviano Petrucci and the first printed music it produced was Harmonice Musices Odhecaton, with pieces by Josquin des Prez and Heinrich Isaac. The effect of printed music was similar to that of literature. Suddenly it was much cheaper and easier to have your own printed music at home and there was a proliferation of music fans and musical maestros. Thanks to that, publishers of printed music flourished during the 18th and 19th centuries in Germany, where Breitkopf & Härtel published Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann and Wagner. Classical and popular music scores sold by the thousands of copies.

And then the radio and record player appeared and overnight it was not necessary to play music live to listen to it, or to provide accompaniment to parties. Sales dropped drastically. With the arrival of the Internet, musical score stores that still survived at the end of the 20th century suddenly closed their doors forever.

Small bookstores such as Frank and Company, which were a kind of specialized bookshop, had a difficult time surviving in the age of online sales. People use the Internet to search for specific things while people go to bookstores to browse, to search for ideas. Even though people often requested musical scores by phone, Frank and Company also had a series of shelves for those who visited the bookstore. When bookstores disappear so do booksellers, like Heidi; those characters that know about books (in this case music and scores) but also the art of suggesting and recommending. Characters who, after having exchanged no more than two words with you, they read you and can guess what you want, even before you know it yourself.

Roland Barthes talks of the importance of the piano in his life in his text Piano Mémoire, in which he says the piano for him is also literature. He remembers the music room where there was a shelf of bound scores, and among which was Beethoven’s sonatas annotated by his aunt, who had carefully marked the melodic developments of each movement. Barthes recognized her handwriting, large and neat. In Schumann’s Album für die Jugend the notes were in a freer handwriting, that of his grandmother when she was a child, more than one hundred years previously, and who had written the hands for each note. For Barthes, those scores are a testament of musical culture. He says that scores are also texts in which the generations of his family are registered. Because instruments, like furniture, are often passed down. And with those comes the possibility that that culture is also inherited.

Every time I go back to the shelves of my room and see the scores and the piano I think about my grandmother, like Barthes. I remember her long hands playing a gavotte by memory. When I open certain Beethoven scores I can see her fingers playing the notes. As with books, scores have a value as objects that go beyond their content. While photocopies and prints get tatty and are lost, the bound scores last and, with them, the memory.

.

By Jazmina Barrera, @jaztronomia

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