It all started with a relatively simple request from a college friend who lives 2,000 miles away: "Bring a couple of simple pieces of music for cello and piano," she e-mailed, "and I'll ask Manon if I can borrow her cello again, since she will be here the day after you arrive."
With current airline regulations, there was no way I was planning to take my cello on the plane with me. But since I was also hoping I would not have to check any luggage, I didn't want to weigh down my carry-on suitcase with a lot of heavy music, either. After all, the wheels don't help in lifting a bag into the overhead compartment.
I was pleased that during my stay on the West Coast, there would be time for my friend and me to enjoy playing together. But what music should I pack?
I carefully looked through each selection in the five-inch-high stack of solo cello pieces in the music closet. Toward the bottom of the pile, I found the perfect choice: a yellowed, crumbling-edged copy of a collection of pieces that had originally cost 75 cents.
My brother had given it to me 50 years ago for my 13th birthday. In his neat "pencilmanship," with a blue-colored pencil, he had carefully labeled the cover of the bound volume of the piano part: "Bach Gavotte and Musette" and, with a blue ballpoint pen, added "etc!" later, underneath his original title. Other selections in the première volume (the first of two volumes) included music by Beethoven, Boccherini, A. Fesca, Field, Haydn, Martini, and Mozart – transcribed for piano and cello as part of a series called "Le Concert Au Salon."
Au salon! It will be in my friend's piano studio that we play the pieces, but I will be thinking "salon" the entire time – even without an audience to hear us.
Originally, the owner of the music was a Dr. Simpson; at least, that is the name penciled in the upper-right-hand corner of the cello part. I noticed that it was published in 1881 by Henry Litolff's Verlag in Braunschweig, Germany, with branches of other companies in London, Boston, Paris, St. Petersbourg, and Moscou. (Yes, these spellings were correct at the time.)
I see two rubber-stamped imprints on the inside cover of the piano part: Edward Schuberth Co. (28 Union Square) and The Joseph Patelson Music House (160 West 56th St., New York 15, N.Y.).
Searching on the Internet, I discovered that the midtown Manhattan store remains in business today – although the address now has a nine-digit ZIP Code. The store still sells secondhand music. When I called and inquired about the volume, the man who answered the phone asked if I wanted to sell my copy to them.
"No," I replied. "But I would like to purchase the deuxième volume." Unfortunately, he did not have a copy.
Googling further, I did find one Scandinavian antiquarian book dealer who has a copy of both my première volume and the second, or deuxième, volume on sale for $25 each. This is more than 33 times the price my brother paid those many years ago.
I just might order the missing volume as a birthday present to myself, and then I could take more pieces to Los Angeles on my next musical visit with my friend.
But I wonder if my copy will be worth $832.50 on the centennial of its receipt.