In the early decades of the18th-century, there were two established ways of printing music: moveable type and engraving. Moveable type — a technology largely unchanged since the 15th century — was somewhat faster, but was increasingly unsuitable to the more complex and virtuosic music of the time. Engraving, using the traditional copper plates and hand tools, made a much more attractive and readable product, but was much more time consuming and expensive. (possible to have popups or sidebars or inset boxes for the paragraphs about moveable type and engraving? )

Find our more about printing music with movable type vs. engraving


Most publishers operated on a business model similar to today’s “vanity presses.” Typically, the composer himself had to raise the money to pay for the costs of printing his music, which would then be for sale through limited outlets — sometimes just the publisher and the composer themselves. Much like what is happening to the recording industry today, sales of published music were being undercut by musicians who found it preferable to just make their own copies by hand. Business was not good.


Two innovative entrepreneurs, Étienne Roger and John Walsh, turned things around. Operating in port city of Amsterdam, Roger developed a large distribution network throughout Europe and began printing music for which there was high demand in large enough quantities to support the costs of the engraving process. He published over 500 editions of music between 1696 and 1722, including works by Vivaldi, Corelli, Handel and others.

In London, John Walsh followed Roger’s lead and added touches of his own. Instead of copper, he began using plates made of the softer pewter, which made it easier for his engravers to use stamps to hammer in note heads, rests, letters and other common symbols instead of inscribing everything by hand. He replaced individually-carved title pages with a modular frame-and-insert design, with room at the bottom to advertise other titles for sale. He floated the idea of the buy-two-get-one-free sale, and more.


In the 1720’s, Georg Philipp Telemann started up his own music publishing house in Hamburg, taking his cue from the successful business models of Roger and Walsh. Using engraving practices similar to Walsh’s, he added many of his own business innovations. Using the networks previously established for books, he set up a pan-European distribution network, sending out catalogs advertising what was coming next and soliciting subscribers to help fund the printing process. He issued some of his music in serial form, with each piece for sale separately as he produced it, or all together as a set at the end.

He created a the first music periodical, Der Getreue Musikmeister (the faithful music master), published four complete cycles of church cantatas, and supplied a growing public of professionals and amateurs with music for every occasion. Within a few years of starting his business, he was the largest and most successful music publisher in Germany.


Telemann’s genius for writing music that people wanted to play and sing, coupled with his success in getting it out into the world, led to his works reaching every corner of Europe, and even traveling to the colony of Pennsylvania during his lifetime.

New research by musicologist Marc-Roderich Pfau shows that three of that Telemann’s cantatas, including “Ei nun, mein lieber Jesu,” were performed during the inauguration ceremonies of Trinity Lutheran Church in colonial Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1766. As part of our Telemann 360° events, Tempesta will return to this church and perform the modern premiere of the same piece there. Given Telemann’s success as a publisher, it is slightly ironic that the copy of the cantata that traveled to the New World in the luggage of an organ builder, Gottlieb Mittelberger, was a hand-copy, not a purchased publication. Read the sobering travel diary of that organ builder’s Journey to Pennsylvania in 1754 here.

More about the importation of culture into the American colonies can be found at the Museum of the American Revolution and at the Independence Seaport Museum, which has constructed a full-size 18th-century schooner inside its galleries. That museum sits in the Port of Philadelphia, which is where Telemann’s cantatas landed on their way to Lancaster via the first highway in the Colonies, Lancaster Pike.