300 Years

of Breitkopf & Härtel

The Festive Year

Breitkopf & Härtel is today the oldest music publisher in the world. With great pride and much gratitude, it can look back on a corporate history unique in music life, starting from a small Leipzig printing shop in 1719. Courage and vision in entrepreneurial decisions, successful selection of artistic partners, and editions of consistently high quality have subsequently brought the publishing house to its current position at the forefront of the music world.

2019 is the 300th anniversary of the publishing house founding. We therefore cordially invite you to join us in celebration of this special anniversary.

Our History

The comprehensive entries of this chronicle for the years 1719 to 1798 already feature excerpts of our printed Festschrift, which will be published later this year. The entries for the years 1807 to 2019 – and here in particular for the more recent history of the last 100 years – will soon be presented in the same way.

Bernhard Christoph Breitkopf’s marriage to Maria Sophia Müller on 24 January

The verifiable prehistory of the “Müller business establishment” dates back to 1542. The Müller family print shop was, respectively, passed down – in accordance with guild tradition – through the surviving spouse’s remarriage.

In this case, the marriage ceremony took place in the Leipzig Nikolaikirche [St. Nicholas Church] on 24 January 1719. “Since the wedding celebrations in the bride’s home could not be done within less than three days, the new print shop boss himself may possibly and understandably have been suffering from some indisposition, first going to work three days later, on 27 January. And that day has been selected by the industrious and matter-of-fact descendants as the momentous date for starting a great enterprise.”

Born the same year was the only son, Johann Gottlob Immanuel, as well as in 1724, a daughter who then died at age 14; the family also included the three daughters of Maria Josepha Breitkopf from her marriage to Johann Caspar Müller. When Bernhard Christoph Breitkopf also lost his wife in 1738, “bowed down by her daughter’s death,” he entered on 2 February 1739 into a “new, 33-year-long, happy marriage with Theodora Sophia Kayser”.

The Breitkopf firm was soon flourishing mightily. Five years after the takeover […] the print shop was the thirteenth in size, then third in size locally in 1744, and Breitkopf was soon afterwards considered the first printer in Germany. Besides the print shop, a publishing-house bookshop was opened, based on the 1723 edition of a manual of the Hebrew Bible […]. (Biographical Lexicon 1889)

Bernhard Christoph Breitkopf’s publication of a Hebrew Bible

The Bible print “apud Bernhard. Christoph. Breitkopffium.” is the first surviving book title published under Breitkopf’s name. The exemplar preserved in the archives consists of two parts that were bound against one another (to be read from the front or from the back): The New Testament (in Greek) and the Old Testament (in Hebrew), along with an index for the Greek and glossaries with Latin translations for the Greek and Hebrew parts. It was edited by the theologian Christian Reineccius, then rector of the Gymnasium illustre Augusteum in Weissenfels, who, together with the university professor “v. Mascow” (presumably Johann Jakob Mascov, 1689–1761), supported the young publisher “with sufficient resources” in his early years.

Beginning of the friendship and collaboration with Johann Christoph Gottsched

I turned to the prudent Herr Breitkopf, by whom I had already had several sheets of verses printed, but who had not yet ventured to print a book in his own publishing house. Thus, here a new author and a new publisher got together: and they became as one in trying their luck. Herr B. read through my translation and my comments, and found so much pleasure therein that he decided to assess for himself whether in the future he would make a prosperous publisher. In fact, he also did print this Fontenellian treatise so neatly, that this little book, so to speak, marked the start of the epoch of beautifully printed German books in this century. This occurred in 1726. (Johann Christoph Gottsched)

In 1736, Gottsched became one of the first tenants in the newly built house “Zum goldenen Bären [At the Golden Bear]” and lived there on the first floor until his death in 1766. Bernhard Christoph Breitkopf printed his important theoretical writings and periodicals.
After 1900, an edition of Gottsched’s works found its way to the Breitkopf & Härtel publishing house: “Mindful of the book publisher’s first beginnings, the newly established ‘Gottsched-Publishing House’ was taken over: The Collected Writings edited by Eugen Reichel in the six-volume ‘Gottsched Society’ edition.”

Relations with J. Ch. Gottsched and his wife Luise, née Kulmus, imparted a particular literary prestige to the Breitkopf firm. Along with his witty wife, the poet, aesthete, and university lecturer, praised at that time as a reformer of literature and taste, dealt with Breitkopf as a friend of the family and published with him various of his productions. (Biographical Lexicon 1889)

The move into the newly built house “Zum goldenen Bären”

The former inn had been acquired in 1732 and then demolished, so that in its place a multi-story residential and commercial building could be built. The property lay next to the small, previously used Müller print shop “in the old Neumarkte,” of the later Universitätsstrasse [University Street]. Towards the end of his life, his grandson Christoph Gottlob Breitkopf noted from his grandfather’s stories: “Since now there was not enough room in the small house to enlarge the print shop, my grandfather negotiated with Mascow’s approval for the Goldene Bär, which was at that time a dilapidated old inn licensed for beer-brewing, selling beer and wine and comprising a resting area for horses shop rights, belonging to two surviving old maids of the late advocate Kayser. […]”
The Goldene Bär was sold in 1867 to the university and destroyed in December 1943 during the Royal Air Force air raid.

Publications of Schemelli’s “Musicalisches Gesang-Buch” and Sperontes’ “Singende Muse an der Pleisse”

“This Musical Song Book contains some melodies newly composed by the honourable Mr. Johann Sebastian Bach, Electoral Saxon Kapellmeister and ‘Director Chori Musici’ in Leipzig, and some of which he improved the thorough bass; the melodies were printed at the beginning of every song. Others Gould have been included, but this would have made the book too expensive for some people”

Clarifying the question of which of the lieder by J. S. Bach might be “newly composed,” which might be improved “in the thoroughbass,” has led to various findings up to today. Philipp Spitta first dealt with the problem in 1880 in volume II of his Bach biography and assigned the composer 29 melodies. Volume 39 of the works’ edition, appearing in 1892, already reduced the number to 24; on the grounds that at least the thoroughbass figuration could have come from Bach, the 1950 first edition of the Bach works’ catalogue once again listed all the pieces printed with notes (BWV 439–507), whereas in today’s research, Bach’s complete authorship is considered certain only for BWV 452, 478, and 505. The songbook was ultimately not very successful: Another print run, announced in the 1736 preface (and even enlarged “by 200 melodies and already ready for engraving”), did not materialize.

Johann Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf’s assumption of the print shop

With Johann Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf’s entry into the paternal business, the firm’s fortunes were gradually to pass to “one of the most dazzling figures in the 18th-century printing trade.” In 1746, Breitkopf married Friderica Constantia Brix, with whom he had five daughters and three sons (three children survived him).

In 1762, Immanuel Breitkopf became a partner in the book-publishing house, and while from then on the book publishing house operated under the name of “Bernhard Christoph Breitkopf und Sohn [and Son]”, the printed music scores and first musico-theoretical books for which the son was responsible, were published parallelly under his own name (initially also “Dalla Stamperia di Giovan. Gottl. Imman. Breitkopf.”). In his program, Immanuel Breitkopf soon included various periodicals (among others, Magazin der neueren französischen Litteratur, Leipziger gelehrte Zeitung, Magazin des Buch- und Kunsthandels). He took over bookshops in Dresden, Bautzen, and Görlitz, founded a playing-card factory in 1770, and when this proved unsuccessful, continued it as a colored-paper factory in 1782 to produce complete “room décor” in “good taste taught by Greek and Roman architecture,” in competition with English wallpapers.

After his father Bernhard Christoph Breitkopf died in 1777, the “Officin, Gießerey und Handlung [print shop, foundry, and operation]” finally passed to the sole heir; likewise in 1777, Johann Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf began publishing his extensive investigations into the history and technology of the printing art, of which his major work, a Kritische Geschichte der Buchdruckerkunst [Critical History of Typography], remained a fragment.

First music scores printed with movable type

The 18th-century’s most momentous invention for the printing industry, though no less also for orienting the publishing-house’s own activity, was the music-printing technology developed by Johann Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf “with separable and movable type” (music-type printing). In 1754, a first music proof of the aria “Wie mancher kann sich schon entschließen” was prepared and presented via Johann Christoph Gottsched to the Electress Maria Antonia Walpurgis of Saxony. She was so won over by the sample print that she asked Breitkopf (by his own account) to produce, using this technology, the pastoral drama that she had composed, Il trionfo della fedeltà. The score, 324 pages in length, took 14 months to print, as the work apparently required most of the just-finished type stamps. In the meantime, Breitkopf introduced his invention by means of a “notice of a new kind of music printing,” appending a sample of the musical setting a sonnet by the Braunschweig [Brunswick?] chamber secretary Johann Friedrich Gräfe (Leipzig, 1755) for a performance of the pastorale that had already taken place.

Breitkopf’s invention sparked an unprecedented production of printed music – “partly in the publishing house, partly by composers’ subscription, partly for other publishers’ account –, which already started even during the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763), soon attracting to the publishing house all notable German composers: Telemann, Quantz, Hasse, the Graun brothers, the Bach sons, Leopold Mozart, Agricola, Kirnberger, Haydn, Dittersdorf, Stamitz, Neefe, Reichardt, and others. New printed publications of the publishing house’s own were added to the stock of manuscript and printed German and foreign music scores – a product range that Breitkopf made public between 1760 and 1787 in various systematic and thematic catalogues of which especially those catalogues of manuscript music with music incipits, appearing from 1762 in 5 parts and 16 supplements (from its “music shop with nothing but manuscripts” founded in 1760), are of greatest source value for the music of the mid 18thcentury, such as for Bach and Haydn works.

New construction of the house “Zum silbernen Bären”

At Easter 1746 Bernhard Christoph Breitkopf had bought the house opposite the Golden Bear, and at the beginning of 1765, the adjacent corner house (Arche and Müller house); demolition began in April of 1765, and the foundation stone for the Silver (or White) Bear was laid during the same month on the occasion of the Easter mass. In 1767 construction of the “Silver Bear” was happily completed and the building fully occupied after Easter. While the main store, printing press, type foundry, paper mill, and bookstore remained in the “Golden Bear,” the new building housed another section of the print shop; moving in, as well, were Immanuel Breitkopf’s family, along with the copper engraver Johann Michael Stock and the physician Dr. Reichel.

Johann Wolfgang Goethe came to Leipzig in 1765, and became acquainted with the Breitkopf family: “I helped them set up and expand, to get furnished and to move in, and thereby understood much relating to such a business; I also had the opportunity to see Oeser’s teachings applied. I was often a visitor in the new house, which I thus saw arise.” In particular, he made friends with the two sons nearly of the same age as himself: Bernhard Theodor Breitkopf (born in 1749) and Christoph Gottlob Breitkopf (born in 1750).

The “Silver Bear” was sold in 1794, the same year that Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf died, demolished in 1894, and thereafter replaced by a more modern building that – like the “Golden Bear” – was bombed in 1943.

Publication of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Four-part Chorales”

That the four-volume edition of Bach’s “four-part chorales” would become a commendable and visionary enterprise could not have been foreseen initially, since the interest in the works was at first theoretical and less of a practical musical nature: In its subscription appeal of July 1781, the publishing house emphasized that the desire of the collector and editor Johann Philipp Kirnberger would be aimed above all at ensuring that “the chorales may be conveyed to posterity, because they are the only patterns of pure composition and a never-ending source for aspiring composers;” to be on the safe side, the publisher let it be known that if the praenumeration was unsuccessful until Easter 1782, the “whole enterprise” would be suspended.

The collection has, in retrospect, nevertheless acquired a special significance, since it contains 186 chorales notated in piano score, whose original contexts in the Bach oeuvre can no longer be determined, that is, their originals are lost. Breitkopf’s edition would become the basis of several other publications in the 19th century.

Christoph Gottlob Breitkopf’s assumption of the publishing-house management

In 1790, Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf concluded a “partnership contract” with his son-in-law, excise tax inspector Christian Gottlob Stopp (since 1781, second husband of the second daughter Louise Marie Wilhelmine), who, representing the old Breitkopf, had already been de facto responsible for the in-house economic administration since 1782. It was with this contract covering Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf’s lifetime, leaving the company name untouched, though giving the new partner generous financial concessions, that the publishing house’s economic difficulties would probably have begun: At the start of 1791, the external Saxon bookshops, as well as, in 1794, the family-owned manor Abtnaundorf were disposed of. In 1794, the “Silver Bear” and other properties were “hastily” sold, most likely at Stopp’s instigation; furthermore, in October 1795, was the public auction of the 19,511 volumes of the library bequeathed by Immanuel Breitkopf was taking place. On 27 December 1793, Christoph Gottlob Breitkopf was married, on 19 January 1794 he returned from his honeymoon, on 28 January 1794, his father Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf died, already recognized and honored in his lifetime, with his death also receiving national attention.

Partnership contract with Gottfried Christoph Härtel

After Christian Gottlob Stopp’s contractual business activities had expired with the death of Immanuel Breitkopf and could be dissolved, Gottlob Breitkopf sought Gottfried Christoph Härtel’s advice. The latter’s progressive yet rapid entry paved the way for the company’s future. An inheritance agreement dated December 1795 governed Gottlob Breitkopf’s relationship to his siblings; in August 1796, a dissociation (“dissolution”) agreement and sales contract between Breitkopf and Härtel was concluded, whose complex set of rules precisely defined the handling of all assets and liabilities, bills and bonds of the company as well as Breitkopf family members’ private assets and pension claims. In the judgment of contemporaries, lively, fresh life began with Härtel’s entry into these new circumstances. “[…] When the last Breitkopf died [in April 1800], the business was already re-established as a music business well-equipped to welcome the new century.” (Oskar von Hase)

Start of Publication of the “Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung” and the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart “Œuvres complettes”

With the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung (AmZ), Härtel initiated the first ambitious German music journal, which for half a century reliably reported on musical life in Germany and abroad, receiving serious competition only in 1834 from the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik edited by Robert Schumann. Serving successively as editors of the Zeitung were Friedrich Rochlitz, Härtel himself, Gottfried Wilhelm Fink, Moritz Hauptmann (later co-founder of the Bach Society and editor of the first volumes of the Bach Complete Edition), and Johann Christian Lobe; among the foreign correspondents were Friedrich Wilhelm Jähns and Philipp Spitta (Berlin), Hermann Deiters (Bonn), Alexander Ritter (Magdeburg), Karl Emil von Schafhäutl (Munich), and Martin Gustav Nottebohm (Vienna). Intermittently enclosed in the weekly Zeitung was the Intelligenz-Blatt zur allgemeinen musikalischen Zeitung [Information Page for the General Music Journal] with advertisements and variable supplements containing music examples, entire music pieces, and illustrations, as well as the portrait of a major musician once a year (Johann Sebastian Bach in the first year’s issue). Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven received complimentary copies and were promoted, together with the already deceased Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, thanks to the forceful coverage, to the recognized Viennese classical “triumvirate;” Johann Wolfgang Goethe subscribed and wrote in a letter to Härtel: “Perhaps I shall soon have the opportunity to say something publicly in favor of an institution deserving the approval of every art lover.” With three volumes of a “New Series” from 1863 to 1865, an attempt was made to build on the previous success. Appearing as well in other publishing houses as of 1866 were successors: three volumes of the Leipziger Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung and 14 volumes of the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung.

In May 1798, the publishing house had “most sincerely” beseeched “Madame” Mozart, “that you would be so kind as to let us know what of your husband’s genuine compositions, not yet engraved, are still in your hands.” Published still the same year was the first volume of the composer’s 17-volume Œuvres complettes; this complete edition, ending in 1816, included piano works, chamber music, and lieder. When publication of the Requiem was announced the following year in the AmZ, Constanze Mozart wrote to the publishing house: ”You have performed a miracle, awakened a dead man.” Numbered besides the Requiem among the more elaborate editions available by subscription, all of them using Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf’s type printing, was Don Giovanni as the only opera, followed later by piano scores for other stage works.


1 June–8 December


  • Bach Museum Leipzig | Treasure chamber

    »Leipzig, aus der Breitkopfischen Buchdruckerey« | Der Verlag im 18. Jahrhundert

    On the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the publishing house, printings and manuscripts will be presented in the treasure chamber of the Bach Museum Leipzig.

    More information can be found on www.bach-leipzig.de

28/29 August


1 September


  • 11 am | Staatstheater Wiesbaden | Foyer Großes Haus

    Chamber concert for the 300th anniversary of Breitkopf & Härtel

    Music by J. N. Hummel, L. van Beethoven, F. Mendelssohn Bartholdy, F. Schubert, R. Schumann und J. Sibelius


    Chamber Music Association of the Hessisches Staatsorchester Wiesbaden
    Vocal soloists of the Hessisches Staatstheater Wiesbaden
    Erika le Roux | Piano

    More information can be found here.

21 October


  • YAMAHA Ginza | Tokyo

    “300 Years of Music History – The oldest Music Publishing House Breitkopf & Härtel” | Exhibition

9 November


  • 6 pm | Gewandhaus Leipzig

    Adolph Bernhard Marx | “Mose” – Oratory in three parts

    Joint edition project and concert with CD production


    Soloists | Gewandhaus choirs | Camerata Lipsiensis | Gregor Meyer, Conductor

6 – 8 December


  • 10 am | Center for Musicology at the HMT Leipzig

    Conference “300 Years of Breitkopf & Härtel”

    Organized by Christoph Hust (HMT Leipzig), Thekla Kluttig (Staatsarchiv Leipzig) and Peter Wollny (Bach-Archiv Leipzig)


    (Registration required)