Sometimes a piece of music is “withdrawn” from a composer’s catalog. Music that was composed, published, and available is taken back — rescinded. You can’t get it anymore. Usually, the composer has thought better of it: the music doesn’t hold up now, the composer’s style has changed a lot, it’s an early piece that just doesn’t seem good enough for public display…
All of Philip Glass’s early non-tonal music is unavailable now. I play(ed) a gospel-hued piano piece by Marc-Anthony Turnage (that I believe is excellent), a piece that was recast, and then withdrawn. Sometimes, pieces are revised, the new version meant to replace the old. Luciano Berio significantly reworked his piano sonata, as my student Francesco Tristano Schlimé learned shortly before going into the studio to record it! I still play original versions of études by Glass that he gave me, although, in his own performances, he’s changed the music (and re-numbered some of the pieces).
On programs, we see that some pianists offer the 1913 version of Rachmaninoff’s Second Sonata, or that a conductor chooses Stravinsky’s 1945 version of music from the “Firebird.” (Some music was revised to recapture lost royalties in the New World.)
Generally, record labels have “deleted” sound recordings from their catalogs as a matter of commerce — items that don’t sell, or that run out and are not worth the additional investment necessary to “repress” (make more of) them.
The changing technologies of recorded sound have effectively withdrawn a lot of recorded material, as new formats eliminate older ones. But then come reissues. A lot of old recordings reappeared with the advent of CDs — as they did with the birth of LPs decades earlier. Huge boxed compilations of the recorded playing of Jascha Heifetz or Vladimir Horowitz. I questioned the reluctance of Jacob Lateiner to approve the re-issue on CD of his RCA recordings of music by Beethoven. “I use those as examples of how not to play,” he said. He opted to let the material remain unavailable — except to collectors who might seek out the old LPs.
Though we might grant today’s composers authority to withdraw or revise, with old music it seems to be different. Some composers had a clear sense of what was public and private. Brahms burned sketches and drafts. Beethoven’s designated “Opus 1″ comes after several earlier (less worthy?) published pieces. Chopin left it to the untrustworthiness of others. Unable to destroy some manuscripts himself, he left them to be burned after he died. Of course, they were never put into the fire, Julian Fontana made an edition, and we have the Fantasy-Impromptu…
Some pianists prefer early versions of later-revised piano pieces by Robert Schumann. (“He went crazy you know…”) In contemporary performances of Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes, we frequently get a conflation of elements from different versions, including material certainly deleted by Schumann.
Online downloads and the digital sharing of recorded music seem to be mooting the issue of “deletions” in recorded music. Will everything be available in perpetuity? Maybe not, but I did find one of Lateiner’s Beethoven recordings on YouTube.