In October 1883, Theodore Presser began publishing The Etude, a magazine of music for experts and students. Presser had studied music and led university department for years, but wished to spread the love and understanding of music beyond the conservatory and university. With $250, Presser started publishing his music magazine and almost immediately had to expand to larger facilities to keep up with the demand.
The Etude was published into the 1960s, and reflected the times it spanned. The earlier issues were primarily classically-focused, but as tastes and technology changed, Presser’s magazine evolved to include jazz, ragtime, modern composers, and encompass new technologies from the phonograph to radio to television. This progression is what appeals most to a non-musician like myself. While I wouldn’t pass up a copy of Radio Guide and its articles on performers and music, The Etude has always seemed a bit more stuffy and mechanical. While The Etude does include a good amount of training and technique, the magazines are usually quite readable. There are often articles on the quality of music itself, profiles on the lives of composers and performers, and stories about how instruments are made or advents in new technology as it applies to music. There’s a surprising amount of overlap between The Etudes of the 1930s and Radio Guides from the 1930s — their focus may be different, but record collectors like myself won’t be disappointed by the articles of this period.
An obvious crossover are the sheet-music collectors; while much of the appeal of sheet-music tends to be the cover art, amateur and professional musicians alike do collect sheet-music for the songs within. Each The Etude usually has 5 to 10 pages of sheet music inside, arranged piano. The amount of music sadly declines in later years. Each issue usually has several short tunes in a variety of genres; these genres change as time passes, but largely remain classical, or at least ‘music-schooly’ in that the 1950s issues don’t include Frank Sinatra tunes.
Another of my favorite part of these magazines are the advertisements — ads for player pianos, music schools, and girdles figure prominently in early The Etude, with radios and phonographs picking up prominence through the 1920s and 30s, then to tape recorders, amplifiers, and electric organs into the 1950s and beyond. The interior pages, sadly, were largely black-and-white, although the outside back cover was usually in color. The Etude’s covers changed in style as well over the years — in the beginning, each issue was page-numbered by volume, but this practice diminished by the 1920s and the magazine began to look more like a modern magazine. Earlier magazines measured 13-1/2″ x 10-1/2″ but in the early 1940s the format changed to a sheet-music-like 9-1/2″ x 12″. In my opinion, the cover art through the 1930s was the best of the magazine; after the smaller format change, covers were still creative, but by the 1950s covers seemed to use more clip-art, photos, and classic paintings. Before the 1920s, only the January issue had a cover, as the rest of the year was expected to be bound into a single edition.
Having all the resources of a publisher, Presser began to release sheetmusic, which, of course, had prime advertising placement in The Etude; The Theodore Presser Company he founded still exists today, continuing to publish the music of new and classic composers. The Etude may not be still published, but so many issues were sent out to schools, independent music teachers, and music afficianados, they are quite common at auctions and estate sales. Whether you are a musician, or just a dedicated listener, you shouldn’t pass up a pile of The Etude: you’ll probably find something more interesting than you think.