Monday, July 16, 2012

RIP Musical Heritage Society

Since the late '70s or thereabouts I've belonged to the Musical Heritage Society, a small, family-run classical music mail order club which specialized in baroque and otherwise often obscure compositions, composers and performers. The Musical Heritage Society also made and sold their own recordings, all in bare bones, but perfectly adequate packaging (see above). Needless to say, I devoured the recordings I purchased from them and many of them (such as Sahan Arzuni performing Khachaturian's Children’s Albums I & II or Robert Tear and Philip Ledger performing Copland's Old American Songs and 12 Poems of Emily Dickinson) I love to this day and always will.

The history of the company seems obscure, but here's what one music fan posted on

"MHS was started by an ex-GI. This ex-GI (name unknown to me) was a member of Patton's Third Army. As they rolled across southern Germany, toward their objective (Berlin), there was this soldier who had a passion for classical music and collecting records. Each small town he visited during his tour of duty, when he could he'd try to find a local record shop (if it wasn't bombed out). He'd actually shop, make selections and have the items shipped back to to his home stateside in NJ. When he finally got home his friends would all marvel at his collection and ask if they could get copies. Keeping in touch with the shopkeepers overseas, he collected up orders and sent for more records.

This lead to more and more inquiries and before you can say "Schleiswig-Holstein", MHS was born. Growing into a business, MHS also sold other things along with offering classical music including greeting cards and wrapping paper. One of the greeting card vendors that called on MHS became good friends with the original owner. When the original owner wanted to retire or just get out of the business, he ended up selling MHS to this guy. That person grew the business and eventually passed it on to his sons..."

When I joined the MHS, they were mailing a book/catalog eighteen times a year called the Musical Heritage Review. Not just a catalog of available recordings, each Review contained many articles and background details on specific pieces, essays and a lively letters page.

Over the years, the MHS gradually purged itself of all the things which had made it unique. It stopped recording its own music, instead rereleasing material from other companies. The letters page and articles disappeared from the catalog and it stopped issuing vinyl.

Still, I hung on. Now the final indignity has happened to the group; earlier this year it was sold to an online British company, Passionato. There's now nothing left of what used to be the Musical Heritage Society - not even the name.

Although I still have a few of the original Musical Heritage Reviews, I unfortunately got rid of (i.e. threw away) most of them in an ill-guided paper purge of the mid-'90s. Note to music lovers: when in doubt, don't throw it out!
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DTclarinet said...

What a shame to lose such a great and unique musical resource. These days im sure it's tough for small businesses to compete w online shopping offered by behemoths like Amazon.

Michael N. said...

Thanks for commenting, David. We'll probably live to see the day of classical music being downloaded to our wireless brains, with Amazon wishing they weren't stuck with mp3s they can't sell!