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Boosey & Hawkes is a British music publisher that claims to be the largest specialist classical music publisher in the world. Until 2003, it was also a major manufacturer of brass, string and wind musical instruments.

Formed in 1930 through the merger of two well-established British music businesses, the company owns the copyrights or agencies to much major 20th century music, including works by Bartók, Leonard Bernstein, Britten, Copland, Kodály, Mahler, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. It also publishes many prominent contemporary composers.

With subsidiaries in Germany, the UK and the US, the company also sells sheet music; provides ready-made production music for television, radio and audio-visual use; commissions and produces music for radio, television and advertising jingles; and administers copyrights owned by media companies.


Before the merger of the Boosey and Hawkes companies

Boosey & Hawkes was founded in 1930 through the merger of two respected music companies, Boosey & Company and Hawkes & Son.

The Boosey family was of FrancoFlemish origin. Boosey & Company traces its roots back to a bookshop at 4 Old Bond Streetmarker in Londonmarker established by Thomas Boosey in about 1792; from 1819 the bookshop was called Boosey & Sons or T. & T. Boosey.

Thomas Boosey's son, also named Thomas (1794/1795–1871), set up a separate musical branch of the company known as T. Boosey & Co. and, in the latter part of the 19th century, Boosey & Company. This branch initially imported foreign music but soon began publishing in England the works of composers such as Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Saverio Mercadante and Gioachino Rossini, and subsequently important operas by Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi. Elgar and Vaughan Williams were among its later signings. The company also produced books: among its first publications was an English translation of Johann Nikolaus Forkel's book Life of J.S. Bach (1820). The company was seriously affected by the House of Lords' decision in Boosey v. Jeffreys (1854) which deprived English publishers of many of their foreign copyrights.

Boosey & Company diversified into manufacturing wind instruments in 1851, collaborating in 1856 with flautist R.S. Pratten (1846–1936) to develop new designs for flutes. The firm bought over the business of Henry Distin in 1868, allowing it to begin making brass instruments. Among its achievements was the widely-acclaimed design for compensating valves developed by David James Blaikley in 1874. The company also commenced production of string instruments.

The company capitalized on the increasing popularity of the ballad by focusing its publishing activities on them. To promote sales, John Boosey (c.1832–1893), son of Thomas jr., established the London Ballad Concerts in 1867 at St. James's Hallmarker and later at Queen's Hallmarker when it opened in 1893. Clara Butt and John Sims Reeves performed at these concerts, and its successes included Arthur Sullivan's "The Lost Chord" (1877) and Stephen Adams' "The Holy City". The company began emphasizing educational music from about the end of the 19th century.

In 1874 Boosey & Company moved into offices at 295 Regent Streetmarker, where the business was to stay for the next 131 years. In 1892, Boosey & Company opened an office in New Yorkmarker which still exists today. The business eventually owned half of Regent Street, and at the time of the merger was managed by Leslie Boosey (1887–1979).

Hawkes & Son (later Rivière & Hawkes), a rival to Boosey & Company, was founded in 1865 by William Henry Hawkes selling orchestral sheet music. The company also made musical instruments and spare parts such as clarinet reeds, and by 1925 Hawkes had set up an instrument factory in Edgwaremarker, North Londonmarker. The business, which was particularly known for brass and military band music, was eventually inherited by Ralph Hawkes (1898–1950).

After the merger

Leslie Boosey and Ralph Hawkes met in the 1920s when they were on the Board of the Performing Right Society, and saw an opportunity to go into business together. They formed Boosey & Hawkes in 1930 through a merger of their respective businesses. Hawkes & Son moved from its office in Denman Street to join the Boosey staff at 295 Regent Street.

The 1938 Anschluss – the annexation of Austriamarker into Greater Germany by the Nazi regime – led to the Nazification of Viennesemarker publishing house Universal Edition. Boosey & Hawkes seized the opportunity to sign up composers Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály, and also rescued Universal's Jewish staff, who later played an important role in developing the company. One such employee in particular, Ernst Roth (1896–1971), facilitated the signing of Richard Strauss and Igor Stravinsky, and was instrumental in the production of Strauss's Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs) (1948; premièred 1950) and Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress (premièred 1951). Another significant figure from Vienna who occupied an editorial role was composer Arnold Schoenberg's pupil Erwin Stein, and after the war the composer Leopold Spinner, a pupil of Anton Webern, was also on the editorial staff. Stein was instrumental in founding the modern-music journal Tempo in 1939, which began as Boosey & Hawkes' own newsletter but later became a more independent publication.

By the time World War II broke out in 1939, Boosey & Hawkes had also signed Aaron Copland and Benjamin Britten. It was Ralph Hawkes who championed Britten when he was still relatively unknown, often against the rest of the board of directors, until the première on 7 June 1945 of Peter Grimes, which was a critical and popular success. Sheet music sales soared during the War, enabling Boosey & Hawkes to buy Editions Russes which held the rights to the most valuable works of Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky. The company also purchased the lease of the Royal Opera Housemarker in London in 1944, rescuing it from becoming a permanent dance hall and providing a venue for world-class ballet and opera in the capital.

By 1950, Boosey & Hawkes was a leading international music company with an extensive catalogue of serious composers and offices in Bonnmarker, Johannesburgmarker, New York, Parismarker, Torontomarker and Sydneymarker. However, from the late 1940s, strains had begun to appear in the relationship between Leslie Boosey and Ralph Hawkes, and this led to factions supporting each man forming in the company. It was discovered that Hawkes had borrowed capital of £100,000 during the War without the permission of the exchange control authorities, and Boosey was forced to clear up the situation at great personal cost. Hawkes secretly wanted to buy out the music publishing side of the business and manage it from New Yorkmarker, leaving Boosey in London with the musical instrument business which Hawkes found dull. However, he died suddenly in 1950, and representation of his faction was taken over by his flamboyant but unreliable brother Geoffrey who spent much of the company's money on ventures such as the manufacture of mouth organs and ovens which failed. Geoffrey Hawkes also sold shares in the company to fund his philandering, to the point that the company was forced to go public to raise cash. Leslie Boosey allowed Geoffrey his turn as chairman, but within two years the profitable company was on the brink of insolvency and Geoffrey Hawkes died of leukaemia in 1961.

During these difficult years, Boosey was supported by his trusted managing director, Ernst Roth. However, Roth later regarded the Boosey family as ineffectual and parochial. In the early 1960s, Roth forced Boosey's sons Anthony and Simon out of the company, and prevented his youngest son, Nigel, from even joining, allegedly at the behest of Benjamin Britten. Roth and Boosey also had differences over Britten's influence over the company. Roth regarded Britten as a gifted local musician, rather than a true genius like Roth's friends Strauss and Stravinsky. Boosey realized how valuable Britten was to the company, and agreed to Britten's request to divide the company into instruments and publishing. However, Britten humiliated Boosey by preventing him from chairing the music publishing board Boosey had established at Britten's request. In 1963, Britten also managed to get Boosey & Hawkes to employ Donald Mitchell to find new, young composers for the company. Angered by the sway Britten had over Boosey, Roth fired Mitchell within a year. Mitchell later set up Faber Music for book publisher Faber and Faber with the assistance of Britten and the blessing of T. S. Eliot.

Boosey retired from the company in 1964, and died without an obituary in 1979. Although he had been awarded with the Légion d'honneur by France, his achievements were mostly unrecognized in the UK. However, a large number of composers and their estates continue to benefit from his pioneering work in rights and royalty collection. In addition, every two years the Royal Philharmonic Society and the Performing Right Society honour individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the furtherance of contemporary music in Britain with the Leslie Boosey Award. The award is given to those who work "backstage", such as administrators, broadcasters, educationalists, programmers, publishers and representatives from the recording industry.

Boosey & Hawkes' musical instruments division was gradually scaled down from the mid-1970s as it became less viable to have such an extensive range of products. Various lines were outsourced and sold off. By the time of the closure of the Edgware factory in 2001, brass instruments were the only thriving part of the instrument range. Production was moved to Watfordmarker, Hertfordshiremarker, and the instruments rebranded Besson.

It took nearly 20 years for Boosey & Hawkes to regain the leading position in the international music scene that it has today. It claims to be the largest specialist classical music publisher in the world.

The company today

In 2001, Boosey & Hawkes was put up for sale after accounting irregularities were discovered in its Chicagomarker instrument-distribution business, leading to £13m worth of sales being written off, a plummeting share price, and the company's near-bankruptcy. It was eventually bought by venture capitalists HgCapital in 2003 for £40 million.

On 11 February 2003, Boosey & Hawkes sold its musical instrument division, which included clarinet maker Buffet Crampon and guitar manufacturer Höfner, to The Music Group, a company formed by rescue buyout specialists Rutland Fund Management, for £33.2 million. An archive of musical instruments manufactured or collected by the company throughout its history was passed to the Horniman Museummarker in Forest Hillmarker, South Londonmarker.

In September 2005 the company was again offered for sale by HgCapital which announced that it was seeking between £60 and £80 million. One of the interested buyers was Elevation Partners, a private equity firm which counts U2 lead singer Bono as a partner and managing director. Despite offers of about £115 million from a number of parties, the sale was later cancelled in November 2005.

Today, partly due to the foresight or business acumen of Ralph Hawkes, the company owns the copyrights or agencies to much major 20th century music, including works by Bartók, Leonard Bernstein, Britten (notably all his output between 1938 and 1963), Copland, Kodály, Mahler, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. It also publishes many prominent contemporary composers, such as John Adams, Louis Andriessen, Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Unsuk Chin, Michael Daugherty, Peter Maxwell Davies, Henryk Górecki, Heinz Karl Gruber, Robin Holloway, Magnus Lindberg, James MacMillan, Olga Neuwirth, Kurt Schwertsik and Mark-Anthony Turnage. The company's New York branch has developed its own catalogue emphasizing the works of American composers, including Elliott Carter, David Del Tredici, Walter Piston, Ned Rorem and Steve Reich.

295 Regent Street, which was the home of Boosey & Company since 1874 and of Boosey & Hawkes' publishing business and music shop from 1930, was finally given up by the company in 2005 which then relocated to Aldwych House. Boosey & Hawkes Music Shop claims to have the UK's largest selection of printed music from all publishers, and operates a worldwide mail order service.

The company also has a major division, BooseyMedia, that commissions and produces music for radio, television and advertising jingles, and the administration of copyrights owned by media companies. Its Cavendish Production Music Library provides ready-made production music for television, radio and audio-visual use.

The Boosey & Hawkes group has branches in five countries on four continents, including companies in Germany (Bote & Bock GmbH & Co. KG and Anton J. Benjamin GmbH), the UK (Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers Ltd.) and the USA (Boosey & Hawkes, Inc.). In North America, Boosey & Hawkes' catalogue is distributed by the Hal Leonard Corporation.

In April 2008, Boosey & Hawkes was bought by the Imagem Music Group.


The company was lampooned by The Goon Show as "Goosy and Borks" in their episode, "Lurgy Strikes Britain", as well as by musical parodist Peter Schickele who named one of the friends of fictional composer P.D.Q. Bach Jonathan "Boozey" Hawkes. Somewhat more recondite was the punning reference delivered in one of Gerard Hoffnung's parody concerts: "If Boosey's will Hawk it, Schott's will Tippett".


  1. Blaikley, D.J. (David James); William C. Smith & Peter Ward Jones. "Boosey & Hawkes". Grove Music Online (L. Macy, ed.). Retrieved on 14 June 2007.
  2. The shop moved to 28 Holles Street in 1816:
  3. This differs from information provided by The Observer, which claims that Boosey & Company grew out of a music lending library in London founded by John Boosey in 1765: see
  4. This was a translation from the German of


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