Classical music fans are increasingly using the web to share music. On any given evening you could curl up with your laptop or iPad and feast on performances of Beethoven’s Ninth, Durufle’s Requiem and lots more. Services such as the Naxos Music LIbrary make recordings available for a membership fee.
What about the owner of a restaurant who wants to play a CD for patrons? Copyright law says that while Frederic Chopin has no claims personally when one of his works are played (he died in 1849), the labels whose recordings are being played in a public setting are likely owed some royalty. The same goes for music placed in movies.
To remedy what it sees as an impediment on the sharing of culture, a San Francisco-based organization is working to make the oeuvre of one composer free for all. Aaron Dunn is the Founder of Musopen. Musopen, a not-for-profit, online library of public domain sheet music and music recordings. Dunn and I spoke recently about Musopen’s fund-raising effort known as The Chopin Project and why Chopin specifically gets the star treatment.
Dunn explained that:
There’s an expectation today - for good or bad - that music should be free. People get it free on Youtube. They’ve downloaded it for free. Classical music has been sort of hurt because it remains largely accessible only on CD or on iTunes or in concerts. If you want the audience to grow it needs to be accessible… so people can try it. We wanted to pick someone for this project who had broad appeal who was universally loved. We thought [Chopin] would be an excellent choice.
Dunn and his Musopen allies plan to record every work written by Frederic Chopin and make it available for free on the Musopen website. The trove of recordings will include Aaron Dunn’s personal favorite: Arthur Rubinstein’s recording of Nocturne No. 1.
Dunn highlighted the usefulness of the Chopin Project to classical music fans.
If a person wanted to just hear a song, YouTube is probably the best bet. The point of Musopen is you can not only listen to it, but use it. If a person wants to play music in a cafe and not get sued - which some people do - Musopen is a better source for that.
Dunn’s admits that launching significant classical works into the public domain is complicated since copyright law doesn’t exist in every county nor are such rules recognized in every nation.
He is using Kickstarter.com to fund the project. Should the campaign raise $75,000 by October 24, the project gets funded. Dunn estimates he’ll have the project done one year from this October.
For now, you can get your weekly fix of the piano master every Wednesday at noon. It’s The Chopin Cafe on 91.3fm KBIA.