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Stop the Presses!


At the end of 1784, when Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach found out that his new cantata was going to cost a lot more than expected, he fired off an urgent letter to the printer:

The contents of your last letter all but made me sick. Oh, how beholden I would have been to you if only you had let me know sooner about the size of my cantata in print. In any event, I ask that as soon as you receive this letter, you stop printing my cantata.

People here have made promises that they have not kept. You have not one single subscriber and I have about ten. In all likelihood, I can get at most 50 subscribers. Given these circumstances, I can lose my reputation. If I wanted to raise the subscription price, most would back out. Most of them are poor cantors and that kind of thing. Enough. It is decided: The printing of my cantata in score is not to be continued and will be abandoned. Instead you will be so kind as to print my fifth collection For the Connoisseur and Amateur, which is waiting here finished. And as soon as I get back my manuscript of the cantata from you I’ll make a keyboard reduction of it, and that will be printed.

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I now throw it into your hands, my consolation being that they are the hands of a completely honest man and my dear friend.

But please don’t think that I’m expecting you to incur the slightest loss, which would be unreasonable and unfriendly. No! You’ll be so kind as to let me know at once how much is printed and what I owe you, and I hope that it will be little. Regardless of what it is, though, I must and will pay it all gladly. It’s better to have a small loss than one from which I’ll never recover.

Two years would pass before the full cantata would see print.