Mass. business amasses millions of musical scores
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. (AP) — After 75 years, a little-known music publishing business is still chugging along in a nearly forgotten former elementary school in the hills of northern Williamstown.
Housed inside the classrooms and hallways of what used to be Broad Brook Elementary School on White Oaks Road — now the home of Broude Brothers Limited — are hundreds of thousands of classical musical scores, many of them published in the mid-to-early 1900s. Some of them rare, some of them facsimiles of the original first editions, and almost all of them are not available digitally elsewhere.
Ronald Broude isn’t sure how many different pieces of music are stored here.
“I wouldn’t even want to try and guess,” he said.
Broude is president of the firm, although he said it’s a “glorified,” title as he pitches in just about everywhere, including driving the delivery truck.
And since there are few dealers in these types of publications, the old school building has become a repository of musical history and knowledge, catalogued and stacked from floor to ceiling, waiting for someone somewhere to seek out that knowledge, possibly to make it audible again.
“This is a last stronghold of paper — we are paper people and book people,” Broude said.
With only a simple website and just 10 employees, Broude Brothers Ltd., publishes, sells and rents these often obscure, sometimes rare classical musical scores, and does not take orders over the Internet. They do all their business by phone. Publications are engraved and edited here as well. As a result, the sales staff has to have extensive knowledge of the music publishing business and all the different editions of all the symphonies by all the composers, and all the different instrument parts of the different scores.
“This is probably the only place in the country you can find any volume listed in the Musica Britannica that you might need,” said Broude, referring to the authoritative national collection of British music.
The Broude Trust, a nonprofit, is also operated out of the former school and publishes specialty collector’s volumes called critical editions. They cover aspects of specific composers’ works for particular instruments and contain a wealth of historical data about the music — where it has been played and by whom, and when and how it may have been changed over the years for different performances.
It is a daily, intensive practice of musicology, says Broude, who is the son and nephew of the two brothers who founded the business in 1929 on 57th Street in New York, across from Carnegie Hall.
The Broude brothers set up a little shop for used books of music, which soon became a mecca for the orchestral musician community. Having a flare for finding rare copies of music, they soon began supplying musicians and orchestras with particular pieces they needed, and later began publishing such scores.
In 1982, a few years after Broad Brook Elementary had closed down, the company bought the 50-year old school building for $750,000, and moved the operation from New York to Williamstown over the next several years.
A member of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association, Broude said the operation hearkens back to another time.
“We are very much like an 18th-century music shop — we do a bit of everything,” he said.
Their customers are professors, orchestra librarians, colleges, conductors, collectors and musicians — roughly 3,500 of them on the books. As such, Broude Brothers is a hidden gem in the Berkshire County cultural economy.
Tanglewood has dealt with Broude Brothers a few times as well.
“A few years ago,” Broude said, “they needed something that evening, and we had it for them.”
Broude has few worries about the future of his business, as what he sells has been popular for hundreds of years.
“It’s not a question of having something new to sell every year, but having something that’s sold well throughout the years,” he said. “Beethoven ain’t going to go out of fashion.”