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Music, Copyright, and Intellectual Property during the French Revolution: A Newly Discovered Letter from André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry

Rebecca Dowd Geoffroy-Schwinden

Résumé

Before the French Revolution began in 1789, André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry composed opéra comique that achieved great success both in Paris and abroad. As the revolutionary tides swept toward republican musical aesthetics, the illustrious Grétry receded from the public eye and briefly struggled to remain afloat. A newly discovered letter that he wrote during this period to the famed Abbé Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyes offers a window into the effects that revolutionary legislation had on musicians. Sieyes, author of the seminal revolutionary text “What is the Third Estate?”, pioneered liberty of the press and authors’ rights legislation as a member of the French National Assembly and National Convention. His efforts were realized when the first intellectual property laws relating to music became codified in 1791 and 1793. In the 1790 letter, although Grétry praises Sieyes’ policy proposals, he also raises personal and professional injustices surrounding intellectual property rights to music. Grétry’s letter addresses his concerns about the translations of stage works from French to Italian, the unsanctioned performances of opéras and opéras comiques, and the general welfare of French musicians. While in his nineteenth-century memoirs Grétry recasts himself as a republican, this letter from early in the Revolution focuses on musicians’ more tangible concern to, in his own words, “place bread on the table.” The letter invites an interrogation of how musicians approached the new patronage structure in revolutionary France, which abruptly transferred from the court and church to the nation as a result of political upheaval. A valuable addition to scholarly understanding of Grétry’s participation in the Revolution, the letter simultaneously begs a rethinking of his contribution to revolutionary causes and a reevaluation of musicians’ professional activities during the French Revolution.

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Introduction

  • 1 Letter from Grétry to Sieyes, 16 October 1790 (F-Pan, AP 284/8 (4)). F-Pan is the RISM sigla for th (...)
  • 2 Arnold Robert James, Grétry’s Operas and the French Public: From the Old Regime to the Restoration, (...)
  • 3 Pierre le grand (1790) was noted for its positive portrayal of the monarchy (see following article (...)
  • 4 Froidcourt Georges de (ed.), La correspondance générale de Grétry, Brussells, Brepols, 1962.

1An onslaught of worries must have occupied composer André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry’s mind when he sat down to write a letter to the National Assembly deputy, the Abbé Sieyes, on October 16, 1790.1 Though Grétry is forgotten in many contemporary narratives of music history, he boasted a celebrity status in late eighteenth-century Paris.2 His opéra comiques not only dazzled the Parisian public, but also gained attention from the queen. Grétry served as her personal music director and Marie Antoinette was even godmother to one of his daughters. But as the French Revolution heated, both Grétry’s personal and professional stars began to dim. During 1790 alone, one of his operas had been deemed too sympathetic to the monarchy and his two daughters, Lucile and Antoinette, both died tragically young.3 This newly discovered letter to Sieyes, written by Grétry during the difficult year of 1790, does not appear in the authoritative collection of the composer’s correspondences and has never been discussed by scholars.4 Not only does the letter shed light on the composer’s support of revolutionary agendas, but it also provides insight into the tangible ramifications that musicians felt as a result of the socio-economic changes caused by the political upheaval. The new music market that emerged from the revolutionary rubble forced French musicians to settle questions about copyright and intellectual property that had long been debated in eighteenth-century Europe. Grétry’s letter reveals a composer grappling with complex issues that traversed legal, economic, and political realms.

  • 5 Tschmuck Peter, “Eighteenth-century Vienna,” Towse Ruth (ed.), Copyright in the Cultural Industries(...)
  • 6 Kretschmer Martin & Kawohl Friedemann, “The History and Philosophy of Copyright”, Frith Simon & Mar (...)
  • 7 Carroll, Michael W., “The Struggle for Music Copyright,” Florida Law Review, vol. 57, no 4, Septemb (...)
  • 8 Kretschmer and Kawohl, “The History and Philosophy of Copyright”, p. 25.
  • 9 Towse, Ruth, “Copyright and Economics”, Frith and Marshall (eds.), Music and Copyright, p. 56–57.

2 There are two historical interpretations of eighteenth-century composers’ pursuit of copyright protection. One perspective contends that an intellectual spirit of ownership motivated composers to insist upon a moral right to dictate how their music circulated.5 Ownership, however, could be defined both abstractly and tangibly. Thus, the debate between copyright as a natural right of self-expression versus a property right of authors or publishers persisted from the late seventeenth to early nineteenth centuries.6 The other historical perspective, primarily purported by legal scholars, contends that as the printed circulation of music became more profitable than royal patronage, privileges, and ticketed performances, composers increasingly pursued ownership rights over their share of profits from publication. These two views, referred to by legal scholar Michael W. Carroll as intellectualist and materialist, respectively, represent the complex economic and legal circumstances within which eighteenth-century composers worked.7 The transition from court to freelance musicianship occurred diffusely, as public concerts and publishing gradually became more lucrative than contracted court positions. More generally, the rise of copyright was directly linked to the transition away from protectionist economic policies within mercantile economic frameworks, as Europe slowly evolved into a free market system.8 Indeed, as early as Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, proponents of a free market identified copyright as a necessary evil, required to incentivize artistic production.9

  • 10 Mace, Nancy A., “Music Copyright in Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth-Century Britain”, Alexande (...)
  • 11 See Guillio Laurent, “Legal Aspects,” Rasch, Rudolph (ed.), Music Publishing in Europe 1600–1900: C (...)

3 Copyright was first guaranteed by law through the 1710 Statute of Anne in England. The statute neither explicitly applied to music nor protected authors of printed works. Instead, it guaranteed publishers the exclusive rights to print during a fourteen-year period any work legally acquired. Composers began to enter copyright debates in England later in the eighteenth century, particularly through the famous cases of Johann Christian Bach and Charles Frederick Abel.10 Until the Revolution, the right to publish in France was granted exclusively through royal privilege. Four main differences distinguish copyright protection from protection by royal privilege: first, privilege is not automatically guaranteed, but must be requested; second, a privilege granted could be revoked at any time; third, privilege was granted not only for prints, but also for reprints; and fourth, privileges did not extend across state borders. This last defining feature of privilege caused numerous frustrations for music publishers throughout eighteenth-century Europe, as some composers used this loophole to their advantage.11 Overall, though, in the case of music, eighteenth-century printing privileges protected publishers more than composers.

  • 12 Doyle William, The Oxford History of the French Revolution, second edition, Oxford, Oxford Universi (...)

4Privilege was the defining social characteristic of Old Regime French society, as nobility, property, and nearly everything else was ultimately granted by the power of the king. After the National Assembly was declared in June 1789 and the Bastille fell on July 14, France began to reimagine a new nation. In this process, the night of August 4, 1789, stands out as a defining moment in French political, legal, social, and economic history.12 A revolutionary spirit moved National Assembly members to stand up, one by one, and renounce their various privileges. Yet to renounce one’s privilege was to renounce much more than mere titles. By the morning of August 5, 1789, the socio-economic structures of France, from time immemorial, had been completely dismantled. New legal structures had to be designed to facilitate all socio-economic exchange previously regulated through royal privilege, printing and publication among them. When Grétry wrote to Sieyes, the two men had already witnessed a profound upheaval in the economic and legal structures that had once dictated the French music market.

The Philosopher and the Composer

  • 13 Forsythe Murray, Reason and Revolution: The Political thought of the Abbé Sieyès, London and New Yo (...)
  • 14 The Private Papers of the Abbé Sieyès, F-Pan, AP284.
  • 15 Sewell, A Rhetoric of Bourgeois Revolution, p. 13.
  • 16 Ibid., p. 14-15.

5At the time that Sieyes received Grétry’s letter, he had followed an unlikely trajectory to become one of the most profound political philosophers of the French Revolution.13 His father had served as a minor royal official in the town of Fréjus in the Provence region of France. Sieyes attended the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice in Paris and also studied theology at the Sorbonne. Although his academic performance at both institutions was underwhelming, his personal papers reveal a brilliant mind grappling with philosophy, natural history, and political and economic theories during the 1770s and 1780s.14 The clergy offered him a path to a secure livelihood, despite his generally negative view of religion. Indeed, he described himself as an ecclesiastic-administrator rather than as a priest.15 His impressive career trajectory, which began in 1775, was achieved through patronage within the first estate. The Abbé de Césarge helped Sieyes to obtain a position as secretary to a royal almoner, de Lubersac, who soon became bishop of Tréguier in Brittany. After briefly serving as chaplain to the king’s aunt, Madame Sophie, in 1780, Sieyes became vicor general of Chartres, then a canon of the cathedral chapter three years later, and a delegate of the diocese to the Sovereign Chamber of the Clergy in Paris. By 1788 he served as the Chartres chapter’s chancellor as well as a representative to the provincial assembly of the Orléanais. Still, the ambitious cleric harbored resentment toward the nobility who occupied the most prestigious positions of the first estate, often at the expense of more deserving bourgeois clerics who were overlooked merely because of their meager social connections.16

  • 17 Ibid., p. 15-16.
  • 18 Ibid., p. 41.
  • 19 Sewell highlights Sieyes’ astute articulation of representative government, which applies Rousseau’ (...)

6 Sieyes exercised his assiduous study of philosophy and his critiques of Old Regime privilege when he wrote three pamphlets in reaction to the political, economic, and fiscal crises of 1788 and 1789 in France. The publications earned him celebrity in Paris and invitations to salons, and by 1789 he found himself elected deputy to the Estates-General as a representative of the Parisian third estate.17 In What is the Third Estate?, a pamphlet published six months before the storming of the Bastille, Sieyes critiques the Old Regime socio-economic hierarchy that divided subjects into three classes—clergy in the first estate, nobility in the second, and everyone else in the third. Instead, he proffers that the third estate, although always treated as “nothing,” was “everything” to the French nation and deserved to become “something” politically.18 He proposed that citizens be grouped into four classes based on their production of wealth for the collective good of the nation, his own idea of political economy that combines Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s social contract with Adam Smith’s economic acumen.19 In his position as deputy to the Estates-General, Sieyes applied his acute political thought by suggesting that because the Third Estate held true sovereignty, it unquestionably held the right to declare itself the National Assembly without participation from the first and second estates. His leadership earned Sieyes appointment to committees that would draft the new constitution and the Declaration of Rights of Man.

  • 20 Arnold, Grétry’s Operas and the French Public, p. 113.
  • 21 See Froidcourt (ed.), La correspondance générale de Grétry.
  • 22 Arnold, Grétry’s Operas and the French Public, p. 124.
  • 23 Grétry André-Ernest-Modeste, Mémoires, ou Essais sur la musique, Paris, 1789, expanded 1797; De la (...)

7 Grétry, on the other hand, was already a prominent cultural figure when the Revolution began. His opéra comiques had been wildly successful under the Old Regime, and although he had not mounted any recent successes as the Revolution heated, he held a long-established musical reputation in Paris. Biographers, musicologists, and historians have debated Grétry’s navigation of the Revolution, some asserting that a heavy-handed government coerced his revolutionary compositions and others convinced that he was a committed republican.20 While scholars have speculated about Grétry’s support for the Revolution based on his musical output, his financial decisions, and his published Mémoirs, which appeared first in 1789 and again revised in 1797, personal reflections by Grétry from the height of the revolutionary turmoil remain sparse.21 Although he never enjoyed a formal patronage relationship, during the 1770s and 1780s Grétry benefited from the French monarchy’s support of opera and the admiration of Queen Marie Antoinette, receiving stipends from the Opéra-Comique and a royal pension.22 Moreover, the royalist interpretations of his 1790 opéra comique Pierre le Grand and pre-revolutionary “Ô Richard, ô mon roi” colored the composer as politically conservative. By 1801, however, Grétry thoroughly recast himself in his published writings as an even-handed republican.23 The question of his true sentiments regarding the Revolution has nonetheless persisted.

  • 24 Arnold, Grétry’s Operas and the French Public, p. 112.
  • 25 Sieyes, quoted in Sewell, A Rhetoric of Bourgeois Revolution, p. 73. In his post-revolutionary text (...)

8 Both Sieyes and Grétry, despite their mutual patriotic rhetoric, seemed to foster ambivalent views about the Old Regime structures of privilege from which they had benefited. Sieyes demonstrated open distain for the second estate, the nobility, which he perceived as a lazy class that leached off the productive labor of the third estate. Yet his views about privilege became murky concerning the first estate, technically his own order. Sieyes viewed the clergy as a professional class that provided necessary services to the nation, particularly as educators. Thus, he did not initially support the retraction of the clerical tithe on the night of August 4, 1789. This hesitation instigated his gradual decline from leadership in the National Assembly because he was perceived as insufficiently radical, an ironic turn of events for the man who might be said to have single-handedly created the political rhetoric that ushered in the Revolution. Grétry enjoyed income from monarchical privilege until the Revolution. Although he also openly critiqued the nobility in his post-revolutionary writings, he never disparaged the monarchy.24 What the two men undoubtedly shared was a disdain for the second estate and a view of man as “sociable not servile.”25 Grétry, like Sieyes, derided the servile status that non-noble professionals endured under the Old Regime at the hands of the idle nobility. Thus, when Grétry read Sieyes’ legislative proposal to grant ownership rights to musicians, he likely saw a kindred spirit who valued the industry of professional individuals.

Petitions and a Personal Letter

  • 26 “Honorables membres formant Le Comité pour la liberté de la presse,” undated (F-Pan, AP284/8 (1)). (...)
  • 27 During the revolutionary period the Comédie-Italienne and Opéra-Comique were the same venue and the (...)
  • 28 “Honorables membres formant Le Comité pour la liberté de la presse”, undated (F-Pan, AP284/8 (1)).

9When Grétrys letter arrived to Sieyes in late 1790, the composers name was likely familiar to him not only for his opéra comiques, but also because Grétrysignature appears on an undated petition found among the private papers of Sieyes.26 Composer Nicolas-Marie Dalayrac also signed the petition, in addition to many librettists associated with the Théâtre-Italien.27 Sieyes received the petition because he was a member of the assembly’s committee on liberty of the press. The petition asks the committee to present a law to the National Assembly that would protect the intellectual property rights of writers and artists.28 Though undated, the document likely dates to the fall of 1789 or the spring of 1790, because in January 1790, Sieyes indeed brought a report on issues of liberty of the press and copyright to the constitutional committee. The petitioners either contacted Sieyes as he compiled the report during the fall of 1789 or upon hearing of his initiative in January 1790, with the hopes of encouraging the legislation to pass.

  • 29 “Rapport de M. l'abbé Sieyes sur la liberté de la presse, et projet de loi contre les délits qui pe (...)
  • 30 Ibid., p. 283.
  • 31 Kretschmer and Kawohl, “The History and Philosophy of Copyright”, p. 35.
  • 32 “Musiciens, comme associés de talens avec les Gens de lettres dans la composition des ouvrages dest (...)

10The suggestions outlined by the artists in the petition manifest quite clearly in the January 1790 report. The petitioners specifically demanded that no copies of their works be printed or sold without explicit written permission from the author, and that upon the author’s death, his or her heirs would inherit rights to the work for a specified period of time. Though the legislation never passed in the form in which Sieyes presented it, the proposal he submitted on January 20, 1790, represents a milestone in French legal history on intellectual property rights and copyright.29 The report proposes to grant intellectual property rights to individual creators of published works. Article XIV clearly states, “the property of a work should be assured to its author by the law.”30 The language used in the proposal seems to synthesize the competing natural right and property right perspectives about creative work that had competed for a century in pre-revolutionary Europe.31 The report also outlines details of this legal protection from counterfeit publications and performances in four subsequent articles, and in article XIX, it explicitly states that the preceding articles apply equally to printed music and theatre scores—a key element that was absent from previous English laws on copyright. The petition Sieyes received from Grétry and his associates similarly asserts in the final paragraph: “Musicians, as talented associates with men of letters in the composition of works destined for the lyric theatre and in the community of work, interests, and rights with them, solicit from the National Assembly the same protections for their property and the same portion of profits from their operas in the provincial theatres.”32

  • 33 Pétition adressée à l'Assemblée nationale par les auteurs et éditeurs de musique, Paris, Laurens aî (...)

11Another undated petition sent to the National Assembly by authors and editors of music similarly focuses on the legal process of printing music, rather than on the abstract notion of natural ownership rights over products of self-expression. This petition proposes a detailed legal process by which music should be printed. It demands that “authors of music” register works with the municipality and obtain a visa before selling or ceding the manuscript.33 The editor would then also register the work with the municipality to avoid duplicate printings. Engravers would subsequently have to request proper paperwork from editors, proving that the author granted rights for the publication. Next, compilers would need to obtain notarized permission if they wished to change any notes or instrument parts in a score. The legislation would forbid printers from moving forward with printing without a signed copy from the editor verifying that these processes had been properly followed. The petitioners also hoped to ban imported counterfeit works and to strictly regulate exportation. More than sixty musicians signed the petition, from professors at the École royale de chant et de déclamation to instrumental performers from the Théâtre Feydeau. Almost all of the signees would become professors at the Paris Conservatoire when it formed five years later.

12Grétry’s letter to Sieyes, dated October 16, 1790, was probably pursuant to the petitions he had signed, as he was likely pleased to see the petition’s echoes in Sieyes’ proposals. The short, four-page letter touches upon a host of legal and economic issues that concerned musicians at the end of the eighteenth century, particularly as the music market’s foundation abruptly changed from royal pensions and privileges to an open market. The letter also offers a rare perspective on the composer’s personal perspective about revolutionary ideology. Grétry ostensibly penned the letter to congratulate Sieyes about his recent work on liberty of the press, and in particular, the implications of the proposal for dramatic authors and composers. The letter may be read in its original orthography in Appendix 1. What begins as a congratulatory note, however, soon exhibits a host of anxieties, both professional and personal, that weighed on Grétry’s mind as the Revolution unfolded.

  • 34 Letter from Grétry to Sieyes, 16 October 1790 (F-Pan, AP 284/8 (4)).
  • 35 Ibid., p. 1-2.
  • 36 Grétry’s nomenclature for the Opéra-Comique is maintained here. See n. 25.
  • 37 La Harpe Jean-François de, Adresse des auteurs dramatiques à l'Assemblée nationale, prononcé par M. (...)
  • 38 Letter from Grétry to Sieyes, p. 3.

13Grétry contrasts Sieyes’ proposals with those of the playwright Jean-François de La Harpe, who had been outspoken about authors’ rights during this period.34 Grétry critiques La Harpe’s prejudiced view that only men of letters are “dramatic authors” because they write for the same theatre for which Racine and Molière had written—the Comédie-Française.35 Grétry complains about how the Comédie-Française authors consider the writers and composers of the Comédie-Italienne as mere actors (a social group who suffered an unfavorable regard in eighteenth-century Paris).36 Indeed, during his 1790 speeches, La Harpe had accused the sociétaires who ran the Comédie-Française of feeding off of a system of theatrical privilege that deprived authors of their property. In these arguments, however, La Harpe never addressed the rights of composers as authors of stage productions.37 Grétry highlights Beaumarchais’ Figaro (1786) as an example of this inequality between the two theatres, claiming that the play generated more revenue in a few performances than his own opéra comique Richard, Cœur de Lion (1776) ever could. He argues that as long as laws favored librettos and scripts over scores, artists who created successful opéra comique would continue to struggle to survive—with “no bread” on the table and “with but an écu from performances throughout the kingdom.”38 He encourages Sieyes to continue considering the “big picture,” that is to say, the diverse creative energies involved in successful stage productions.

  • 39 For background on these arguments, and on dramatic authors' struggle for intellectual property righ (...)
  • 40 See Kretschmer and Kawohl, “The History and Philosophy of Copyright”, n. 3.
  • 41 “La Nina o sia la pazza per amore”, Calendrier électronique des spectacles sous l’ancien régime et (...)
  • 42 Grétry, Letter to Beaumarchais dated 18 August 1791, in Froidcourt (ed.), La correspondance général (...)

14Grétry raises concerns surrounding the composer’s natural right to his creative work as well as property rights over performances. Interestingly, he does not broach the issue of copyright at all. His concerns stemmed from the organization of Old Regime cultural institutions, particularly tensions between the Opéra and Comédie-Française versus the Comédie-Italienne and Théâtre Feydeau.39 Pierre-Augustin de Beaumarchais, who Grétry singles out in his letter, had established the Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers in 1777, motivated by some of the very issues Grétry raises in his 1790 letter. Indeed, many of the artists who signed the petitions to Sieyes had been members of this group. One of the primary concerns of the society was how provincial theatres continued a long tradition of restaging comic works that first appeared in Paris without first requesting permission from the authors.40 Additionally, tensions surrounding Italian translations of French works lurked beneath these struggles, as writers and composers of new French works for the stage believed that translations of Italian works drew revenue away from the Opéra and Comédie-Française. The year after his letter to Sieyes, Grétry wrote a pleading letter to Beaumarchais about the translation of Marsolliers de Vivetières and Dalayrac’s Nina, ou La Folle par amour (1786), which was translated into Italian by Guiseppe Carpani and set to music by Giovanni Paisiello. The Italian version received over two-dozen performances at the Théâtre Feydeau from September 1791 until August 1792, presumably without permission from Dalayrac.41 Grétry expresses dissatisfaction to Beaumarchais that translations are undertaken and set to new music without permission of either author—that is, neither the librettist nor the composer. He begs Beaumarchais to continue pursuing their “cause” to the authorities.42 The increasing popularity of comic works and Italian translations, coupled with the enhanced role of music in comic productions, led librettists to include composers in their struggle for ownership over stage works.

  • 43 Grétry, Letter to the Journal de Paris dated 1 January 1791, in Ibid., p. 155. “L’espoir qu’il exis (...)
  • 44 Darlow Mark, Staging the French Revolution: Cultural Politics and the Paris Opéra, 1789–1794, Oxfor (...)
  • 45 Ibid.

15 Composers like Grétry argued that, like dramatic authors, their works were born of genius and thus should earn compensation when reproduced, whether through performance or print. Only weeks before the first law regarding copyright was passed in January 1791, Grétry submitted a letter to the Journal de Paris, which quipped that if theatres were going to continue performing his works without permission, they should at least correct the music using a faithful engraved copy. He goes on to say, “The hope that there will soon exist laws that make the property of artists respected makes me endure this last injustice with patience.”43 Despite the arguments set forth by Sieyes and the artists who encouraged him, the legislation that would eventually pass in January 1791 only protected the rights of libretto authors, and not explicitly the intellectual property of all artists. Still, during the Revolution, even musicians, singers, and dancers from the Opéra began to demand their share of performance profits, arguing that productions were the fruit of these artists’ combined individual industry.44 Yet Mark Darlow has demonstrated that arguments for the private interests of individual musicians and composers counterbalanced perceptions of music as a public utility until 1794.45 Property rights are typically a private interest and, in France, music was increasingly viewed as a public good. It is along this line of argument that proponents of a free market saw copyright laws as a hindrance. The focus of Grétry’s letter on the status of composers among men of letters and the unsanctioned performances of musical works indicate that he, along with many of his peers, increasingly viewed ownership of musical works as a moral, natural right, rather than merely a cut of revenues from print sales. This right would be increasingly valuable, as composers would inevitably struggle to live on publication revenues alone. During the summer of 1790, the French government abolished the nobility and stripped the clergy of their unique rights, making them government servants. With the two main patrons of music in France vanished, when Grétry wrote his letter to Sieyes, he likely had this other “big picture” in mind—a music market with no wealthy patrons, no privileges, and no pensions.

A Legal and Economic Legacy

  • 46 For an overview of Physiocratic philosophy see Meek Ronald L., The Economics of Physiocracy: Essays (...)
  • 47 McClellan, “Battling over the lyric muse”, p. 68-78.
  • 48 See Darlow, Staging the French Revolution, p. 63-182, on the bureaucratic negotiations involved in (...)

16A series of laws passed after Grétry’s appeals to Sieyes achieved some of the legal protections for which composers had longed. The Le Chapelier Law, passed on June 14, 1791, champions private, individual interests. The remarkably short text had an immense impact on French society by abolishing craft guilds and trade unions. Guilds represented one of the pillars that upheld the absolutist, mercantile economic system of eighteenth-century France. Their abolishment represented a firm stand for individual rights over collective privilege. Moreover, it held a variety of ramifications for musicians. “The freedoms granted to labor and industry by constitutional law” through Le Chapelier ostensibly legalized the Physiocratic, that is, free market economic philosophy that had gained traction in France since the 1770s.46 Article 1 bans guilds and hierarchical structure within a trade or profession, which came to be viewed as an unfair collective privilege of the stratified Old Regime social hierarchy. The law abolished the monarchy’s monopoly over theatres, thus the right to open a theatre in Paris became available to anyone who had the means. Theatres multiplied from three official sanctioned theatres in 1789 to 35 in 1792.47 This proliferation of performance venues caused a relaxation in censorship since it was no longer the centralized authority representing the crown that would determine repertoire choices. Theatres would instead negotiate repertoire decisions within individual institutions and among various municipal bodies. Thus, more parties and bureaucratic levels participated in the negotiation of repertoire decisions.48 The idea at the heart of Le Chapelier—the abolishment of collective privilege for the sake of individual opportunity and enterprise—seemed to offer a profound opportunity for musicians. As venues multiplied, new theatres and revolutionary festivals would require more music. Unfortunately, the new venues also caused a flurry of unauthorized performances in Paris.

  • 49 Ibid.
  • 50 Thiollière Michel, “IV. Les débats révolutionnaires: Droits d'auteur et domaine public”, Projet de (...)
  • 51 De Riols Emmanuel-Napoléon Santini, Guide de la propriété artistique et littéraire en France et à l (...)
  • 52 Thiollière explains: “The law of 19–24 Jul 1793 has to the contrary a more general scope. It establ (...)

17 The French laws of 1791 and 1793 would come to be considered the first copyright laws that firmly applied to musicians as well as authors. Michel Thiollière identifies the law of January 1791 as the first author’s right “with both a moral and patrimonial dimension.”49 Through it, works became public property five years after the author’s death, until which time authors and their heirs held exclusive rights. Thus, the law both acknowledged the author’s work as personal property, and also that artistic works constituted a public good that should be openly accessible in perpetuity. Although it was the first “right of performance,” that is, authors had the right to dictate performance of their works during their lifetime; this right was limited in time.50 The Law of 19–24 July, 1793, presented by Joseph Lakanal to the legislative assembly, brought debates on authors’ rights to a close in France for a time.51 The law granted authors, composers, painters, and draftsmen, the right to the printing and distribution of their work, and rights transferred to their heirs up to ten years after the authors’ death. Strict regulations demanded that two copies of any printed work should remain in the Bibliothèque nationale or Cabinet des Estampes to establish an authoritative collection of legally printed works in France.52 While this law definitively granted copyrights to all auteurs, it failed to protect against unsanctioned performances. It could be argued that composers had, as Grétry feared, fallen between the cracks in the vigorous arguments between librettists, theatre entrepreneurs, and actors.

18 Thoillière identifies a tension articulated in Isaac René Guy Le Chapelier’s summation of the Law of 19–24 July, 1793, that persists between legal and economic perspectives into the twenty-first century on music copyright:

  • 53 Ibid., emphasis original. “Cependant, comme il est extrêmement juste que les hommes qui cultivent l (...)

Le Chapelier saw the work, the fruit of a writer’s thoughts as “the most sacred, the most legitimate, the most unassailable, and […] the most personal of properties.” [Le Chapelier] adds, “Although, as it is extremely just that men who cultivate the domain of thoughts reap the fruits of their labor, during their life and for some years after their death, no one must be able, without their consent, to possess the product of their genius. But also, after an established period of time, public property begins, and everyone should be able to print, publish the works that have contributed to the enlightenment of the human mind.” This desire to reconcile authors’ rights to their works with the existence of a public domain then leads to a limit in time, thus a separation from property rights, which are, by nature, perpetual.53

  • 54 Grétry, Letter to Beaumarchais dated 18 August 1791, in Froidcourt (ed.), La correspondance général (...)
  • 55 See Szendy Peter, Listen: A History of our Ears, trans. Charlotte Mandell, New York, Fordham Univer (...)
  • 56 Hesse Carla Alison, Publishing and Cultural Politics in Revolutionary Paris, 1789–1810, Berkeley, U (...)
  • 57 Ibid., p. 121.
  • 58 Ibid., p. 124.
  • 59 Grétry et al., Letter from dramatic authors to Dubois, undated (around 1800), in Froidcourt (ed.), (...)

19In his 1791 letter to Beaumarchais, Grétry acknowledged that Le Chapelier sympathized with the plight of dramatic authors.54 From the law of 1791 regarding performance to the law of 1793 regarding reproduction, however, the author became distanced from his work as an owner, and became instead a medium for cultural heritage that could not possess his creation in perpetuity. The author instead contributed to a collective national heritage of genius.55 Carla Hesse has asserted that the goal of legislative actions in 1793 was to create an open commerce of ideas to balance public and private interest within a free market system.56 Artists’ political identities were renegotiated “from a privileged creature of the absolutist police state into a servant of public enlightenment.”57 Thus, it was through neither a philosophical nor material concern for intellectual property that these laws were founded, but through a political concern of where artists and their work would fit into a regenerated France. “Works of genius” in France were now shared between individual artists, on one hand, and the public, on the other.58 Despite these policies, an undated letter from Grétry, Dalayrac, and other dramatic authors sent during the Consul government to the préfect de police, Dubois, demands that he stop the unsanctioned performances of their works at second- and third-tier Parisian theatres.59

Conclusion

20The French Revolution expedited the gradual transitions that had begun to take place in the eighteenth-century music market. This abrupt change required a firm delineation of not only who owned music, but also what music was—a text, a performance, or an abstract ideal. Although copyright laws sought to grant composers ownership rights over the publication of their works, Grétry’s letter reveals concerns about two other aspects of ownership: rights over performances and rights as an artist over the abstract work. Grétry wanted the art that he created to be considered equal to the creative output of men of letters. These rights to ownership over self-expression, whether text, performance, or art object, were matters of individual concern. The French laws of 1791 and 1793, the first copyright laws to explicitly apply to music, attempted to wed these individual concerns to the view that art represents a public, collective good. These first laws on music as property in fact codified the tension between the legal and economic arguments surrounding music ownership. The former asserting the composer’s property rights, the latter, the ideologies of a free market economy. On a personal level, Grétry’s letter adds more evidence to debates about the composer’s involvement in the Revolution. Grétry clearly supported the revolutionary causes that provided professional opportunities in a changing legal and economic framework. Moreover, while scholars have debated the intellectualist and materialist motivations of music copyright, Grétry’s letter shows that both factors played into the professional concerns of composers at the end of the eighteenth century. Because the privilege structures that supported musicians in Old Regime France suddenly collapsed, it seems that musicians quickly realized that mere publication revenues would not sustain a comfortable livelihood. Thus, musicians, including Grétry, attempted to legally protect their work in an uncharted economic system.

Appendix 1

21Letter from André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry to the Abbé Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyes, dated October 16, 1790, F-Pan, AP284 /8 (4). Original orthography and spelling have been maintained despite errors.

[1] Monsieur.

j’ai lû dans le tems votre excellent ouvrage sur la liberté de la presse, tous les auteurs dramatiques, poetes et musiciens en etoient satisfaits. j’arrive de la province et je lis le discours de M. de la Harpe, qui n’ajoute rien a ce que vous avez fait. je vois seulement que les gens de lettres se croyent seuls les auteurs dramatiques, je vois qu’ils se croyent, au moins, [2] les cousins germains des Racines et des Molieres, parce qu’ils ont travaillé pour le meme theâtre. ils semblent meme nous exclure du droit du proprieté en disant que les auteurs qui ont travaillés pour les italiens, sont contens des comediens. il n’en est pas moins vrai, Monsieur, qu’une piece qui a reussi aux francois, que Figaro, par exemple, a plus raporté a son auteur dans une année, que [3] Richard cœur de Lyon ne raportera jamais. il n’en est pas moins vrai qu’un artiste peut se faire une reputation meritée par trois ou quatre bons ouvrages et n’avoir pas de pain ; et n’eut il qu’un écu aux representations de tout le Royaume son existence est assurée.

continuez donc, Monsieur, a voir les choses en grand comme vous les avez vues, et croyez qu’il ni a eu qu’un [4] cri du reconnoissance entre les artistes, pour approuver votre excellent ouvrage que tous brulent de voir décreter. je suis avec respect

Monsieur,

Paris ce 16 8bre 1790

Mon adresse, rue Poissonniere

Vis a vis la rue Beauregard

Votre tres humble et tres obeissant serviteur

Grétry

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Notes

1 Letter from Grétry to Sieyes, 16 October 1790 (F-Pan, AP 284/8 (4)). F-Pan is the RISM sigla for the Archives nationales de France. Despite the common orthography of the name Sieyes including a grave accent on the second e (“Sieyès”), he usually spelled his name unaccented. For a detailed historical survey of the orthography, see Sewell William H., A Rhetoric of Bourgeois Revolution: The Abbé Sieyes and What is the Third Estate?, Durham and London, Duke University Press, 1994, p. 2, n.2. Sewell’s orthography is adopted throughout this article.

2 Arnold Robert James, Grétry’s Operas and the French Public: From the Old Regime to the Restoration, Surrey and Burlington, VT, Ashgate, 2016.

3 Pierre le grand (1790) was noted for its positive portrayal of the monarchy (see following article section). Grétry’s daughter, Lucile had died in March 1790. Antoinette was ill at the time he wrote to Sieyes, and she soon died, on December 2, 1790. Grétry had already lost his oldest daughter, Andriette-Marie-Jeanne (Jenny) in 1786 or 1787. Charlton David, Grétry and the Growth of Opéra-Comique, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1986, p. 204 and 324.

4 Froidcourt Georges de (ed.), La correspondance générale de Grétry, Brussells, Brepols, 1962.

5 Tschmuck Peter, “Eighteenth-century Vienna,” Towse Ruth (ed.), Copyright in the Cultural Industries, Cheltenham (UK) and Northampton (MA), Edward Elgar Publishing Inc., 2016, p. 218.

6 Kretschmer Martin & Kawohl Friedemann, “The History and Philosophy of Copyright”, Frith Simon & Marshall Lee (eds.), Music and Copyright, second edition, New York, Routledge, 2004, p. 31.

7 Carroll, Michael W., “The Struggle for Music Copyright,” Florida Law Review, vol. 57, no 4, September 2005, p. 914.

8 Kretschmer and Kawohl, “The History and Philosophy of Copyright”, p. 25.

9 Towse, Ruth, “Copyright and Economics”, Frith and Marshall (eds.), Music and Copyright, p. 56–57.

10 Mace, Nancy A., “Music Copyright in Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth-Century Britain”, Alexander Isabella, and Gómez-Arostegui H. Tomás (eds.), Research Handbook on the History of Copyright Law, Cheltenham (UK) and Northampton (MA), Edward Elgar Publishing Inc., 2016, p. 139-158; on Bach and Abel, specifically, see Allen-Ruseell Ann van, “‘For Instruments Not Intended:’ The Second J.C. Bach Lawsuit”, Music & Letters, vol. 83, no 1, 2002, p. 3-29.

11 See Guillio Laurent, “Legal Aspects,” Rasch, Rudolph (ed.), Music Publishing in Europe 1600–1900: Concepts and Issues Bibliography, Berlin, Berliner Wissenschafts-Verlag, 2005; and Mace Nancy A., “Haydn and the London Music Sellers: Forster v. Longman & Broderip”, Music & Letters 77 (1996), p. 527–541.

12 Doyle William, The Oxford History of the French Revolution, second edition, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 116-118.

13 Forsythe Murray, Reason and Revolution: The Political thought of the Abbé Sieyès, London and New York, Continuum International Publishing Group, 1987, p. 3: “He is, more than any other, the man who articulates the political theory of the French Revolution”.

14 The Private Papers of the Abbé Sieyès, F-Pan, AP284.

15 Sewell, A Rhetoric of Bourgeois Revolution, p. 13.

16 Ibid., p. 14-15.

17 Ibid., p. 15-16.

18 Ibid., p. 41.

19 Sewell highlights Sieyes’ astute articulation of representative government, which applies Rousseau’s conception of the social contract to representative government manifested within an economy based on the division of labor (Sewell, A Rhetoric of Bourgeois Revolution, p. 77-80).

20 Arnold, Grétry’s Operas and the French Public, p. 113.

21 See Froidcourt (ed.), La correspondance générale de Grétry.

22 Arnold, Grétry’s Operas and the French Public, p. 124.

23 Grétry André-Ernest-Modeste, Mémoires, ou Essais sur la musique, Paris, 1789, expanded 1797; De la vérité, ce que nous fûmes, ce que nous sommes, ce que nous devrions être, Paris, C. Pougens, 1801; and Réflexions d’un solitaire, Solvay L. and Closson E. (eds.), New York, AMS Press, 1919/1978, and Brix M. and Lenoir Y. (eds.), Namur, Presse Universitaire de Namur, 1993.

24 Arnold, Grétry’s Operas and the French Public, p. 112.

25 Sieyes, quoted in Sewell, A Rhetoric of Bourgeois Revolution, p. 73. In his post-revolutionary text, De la verité, Grétry derides the servitude that artists endured “as men” at the hands of nobles under the Old Regime. See Arnold, Grétry’s Operas and the French Public, p. 112.

26 “Honorables membres formant Le Comité pour la liberté de la presse,” undated (F-Pan, AP284/8 (1)). Previous versions of the following two sections were published in Geoffroy-Schwinden Rebecca Dowd, “Politics, the French Revolution, and Performance: Parisian Musicians as an Emergent Professional Class, 1749–1802,” PhD diss., Duke University, 2015.

27 During the revolutionary period the Comédie-Italienne and Opéra-Comique were the same venue and the names could be used interchangeably. I use the titles interchangeably based on how sources refer to the institution. The Comédie-Italienne had been merged with the Opéra-Comique in 1762, and was officially titled as such, however, many contemporaries refer to the theatre as either the Comédie-Italienne or Théâtre-Italien.

28 “Honorables membres formant Le Comité pour la liberté de la presse”, undated (F-Pan, AP284/8 (1)).

29 “Rapport de M. l'abbé Sieyes sur la liberté de la presse, et projet de loi contre les délits qui peuvent se commettre par la voie de l'impression, et par la publication des écrits et des gravures”, Buchez Philippe-Joseph-Benjamin and Roux Prosper Charles, Histoire parlementaire de la Révolution française, vol. 4, Paris, Paulin, 1834, p. 273.

30 Ibid., p. 283.

31 Kretschmer and Kawohl, “The History and Philosophy of Copyright”, p. 35.

32 “Musiciens, comme associés de talens avec les Gens de lettres dans la composition des ouvrages destinés aux Théâtres lyriques, et en communauté de travaux, d'intréts, et de droits avec eux, sollicitent aupres de l'assemblée nationale la même protection pour leur proprieté et la même part aux benefice de leurs opéra sur les Théâtres de Province,” in “Honorables membres formant Le Comité pour la liberté de la presse”, undated (F-Pan, AP284/8 (1)).

33 Pétition adressée à l'Assemblée nationale par les auteurs et éditeurs de musique, Paris, Laurens aîné, s.d.

34 Letter from Grétry to Sieyes, 16 October 1790 (F-Pan, AP 284/8 (4)).

35 Ibid., p. 1-2.

36 Grétry’s nomenclature for the Opéra-Comique is maintained here. See n. 25.

37 La Harpe Jean-François de, Adresse des auteurs dramatiques à l'Assemblée nationale, prononcé par M. de la Harpe, dans la séance du mardi soir 24 août [1790], n.p., n.d.; and Discours sur la liberté du théâtre prononcé par M. de la Harpe le 17 décembre 1790 à la Société des amis de la Constitution, Paris, Imprimerie nationale, 1790.

38 Letter from Grétry to Sieyes, p. 3.

39 For background on these arguments, and on dramatic authors' struggle for intellectual property rights, see Brown Gregory S., Literary Sociability and Literary Property in France, 1775–1793: Beaumarchais, the Société des Auteurs Dramatiques, and the Comédie Française, Aldershot, England, Ashgate, 2006. For a more specific perspective on Dalayrac’s role in these debates, see Karro Françoise, “Le musicien et le librettiste dans la nation: propriété et défense du créateur par Nicolas Dalayrac et Michel Sedaine,” Mortier Roland and Hasquin Hervé (eds.), Études sur le xviiie siècle: Fêtes et Musiques Révolutionnaires: Grétry et Gossec, Bruxelles, Éditions de l'Université de Bruxelles, 1990, 17: p. 9–52; and McClellan Michael E., “Battling over the lyric muse: expressions of revolution and counterrevolution at the Théâtre Feydeau, 1789–1801”, Ph.D. Diss., UNC-Chapel Hill, 1994.

40 See Kretschmer and Kawohl, “The History and Philosophy of Copyright”, n. 3.

41 “La Nina o sia la pazza per amore”, Calendrier électronique des spectacles sous l’ancien régime et sous la révolution, accessed July 15, 2016, http://www.cesar.org.uk/cesar2

42 Grétry, Letter to Beaumarchais dated 18 August 1791, in Froidcourt (ed.), La correspondance générale de Grétry, p. 158–159.

43 Grétry, Letter to the Journal de Paris dated 1 January 1791, in Ibid., p. 155. “L’espoir qu’il existera bientôt des lois qui feront respecter la propriété des artistes, me font supporter avec patience cette dernier injustice.”

44 Darlow Mark, Staging the French Revolution: Cultural Politics and the Paris Opéra, 1789–1794, Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press, 2012, p. 78-79.

45 Ibid.

46 For an overview of Physiocratic philosophy see Meek Ronald L., The Economics of Physiocracy: Essays and Translations, Cambridge (MA), Harvard University Press, 1963; Fox-Genovese Elizabeth, The Origins of Physiocracy: Economic Revolution and Social Order in Eighteenth-Century France, Ithaca (NY), Cornell University Press, 1976; Sewell William H., Work and Revolution in France: The Language of Labor from the Old Regime to 1848, Cambridge and New York, Cambridge University Press, 1980; and Vardi Liana, The Physiocrats and the World of the Enlightenment, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2012.

47 McClellan, “Battling over the lyric muse”, p. 68-78.

48 See Darlow, Staging the French Revolution, p. 63-182, on the bureaucratic negotiations involved in Opéra repertory decisions from 1789 to 1794.

49 Ibid.

50 Thiollière Michel, “IV. Les débats révolutionnaires: Droits d'auteur et domaine public”, Projet de loi relatif au droit d'auteur et aux droits voisins dans la société de l'information, rapport no 308, 2005–2006, fait au nom de la commission des affaires culturelles, déposé le 12 avril 2006, http://www.senat.fr/rap/l05-308/l05-3084.html (accessed 2 December 2014): “The law of 13–19 January 1791 marks the outcome of a struggle lead by Beaumarchais and consacrates the right of performance of dramatic authors. It offers the first rendition of authors rights with both a moral and patrimonial dimension. This dedication is nonetheless indirect. The law of 1791 is first a text on “spectacles” that begins by stating, in article 2, that ‘works of authors dead for five years or more are public property’ before recognizing the right of authors and their heirs hold an exclusive right to performance of their works limited in time.” (“La loi des 13-19 janvier 1791 marque l'aboutissement du combat mené par Beaumarchais et consacre le droit de représentation des auteurs dramatiques. Elle apporte la première traduction d'un droit d'auteur comportant à la fois une dimension morale et une dimension patrimoniale. Cette consécration n'est cependant qu'indirecte. La loi de 1791 est d'abord un texte sur « les spectacles » qui commence par poser, à l'article 2, que « les ouvrages des auteurs morts depuis cinq ans et plus sont une propriété publique » avant de reconnaître aux auteurs et à leurs ayants droit un droit exclusif sur la représentation de leurs oeuvres limité dans le temps.”)

51 De Riols Emmanuel-Napoléon Santini, Guide de la propriété artistique et littéraire en France et à l'étranger, Paris, Le Bailly, 1881, p. 15.

52 Thiollière explains: “The law of 19–24 Jul 1793 has to the contrary a more general scope. It establishes, in article 1, the principle that ‘authors of all written genres, composers of music, painters and designers that carve pictures or designs, will enjoy for their entire life exclusive rights to sell, to distribute their works in the territory of the Republic and to relinquish the property in full or in part.’ It establishes thus a right to reproduction to authors for the duration of their life, then to their heirs for five years.” (“La loi des 19-24 juillet 1793 a en revanche une portée générale. Elle pose, dès son article 1er, le principe que « les auteurs d'écrits en tout genre, les compositeurs de musique, les peintres et les dessinateurs qui feront graver des tableaux ou dessins, jouiront durant leur vie entière du droit exclusif de vendre, faire vendre, distribuer leurs ouvrages dans le territoire de la République et d'en céder la propriété en tout ou en partie. » Elle consacre donc un droit de reproduction aux auteurs pour la durée de leur vie, puis à leurs héritiers pendant cinq ans.”) Emphasis original.

53 Ibid., emphasis original. “Cependant, comme il est extrêmement juste que les hommes qui cultivent le domaine de la pensée tirent quelques fruits de leur travail, il faut que, pendant toute leur vie et quelques années après leur mort, personne ne puisse, sans leur consentement, disposer du produit de leur génie. Mais aussi, après le délai fixé, la propriété du public commence, et tout le monde doit pouvoir imprimer, publier les ouvrages qui ont contribué à éclairer l'esprit humain.”

54 Grétry, Letter to Beaumarchais dated 18 August 1791, in Froidcourt (ed.), La correspondance générale de Grétry, p. 159.

55 See Szendy Peter, Listen: A History of our Ears, trans. Charlotte Mandell, New York, Fordham University Press, 2008, p. 18-24. Peter Szendy interprets the laws of 1791 and 1793 as the first steps toward a paradigm, codified later in the nineteenth century that gave authors rights over the interpretation of their works. Szendy misreads these two laws. They only attempted to give authors financial compensation for the performance of their works (barely, according to Thiollière), not artistic rights over the staging of productions.

56 Hesse Carla Alison, Publishing and Cultural Politics in Revolutionary Paris, 1789–1810, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1991, p. 125.

57 Ibid., p. 121.

58 Ibid., p. 124.

59 Grétry et al., Letter from dramatic authors to Dubois, undated (around 1800), in Froidcourt (ed.), La correspondance générale de Grétry, p. 212.

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Référence électronique

Rebecca Dowd Geoffroy-Schwinden, « Music, Copyright, and Intellectual Property during the French Revolution: A Newly Discovered Letter from André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry », Transposition [En ligne], 7 | 2018, mis en ligne le 15 septembre 2018, consulté le 16 septembre 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/transposition/2057 ; DOI : 10.4000/transposition.2057

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Rebecca Dowd Geoffroy-Schwinden

Rebecca Dowd Geoffroy-Schwinden is assistant professor of music history at the University of North Texas College of Music. Her research on music in eighteenth-century France has been published in Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture and Women and Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture, and presented at conferences in the United States, Europe, and Asia. She received a Ph.D. in musicology from Duke University in 2015, where her research was supported by several endowed fellowships and she was inducted as a member of the Society of Duke Fellows.

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