The Music Department recently acquired a set of harpsichord sonatas by Giuseppe Sarti , printed in London by the Sami-born printer, Henric Fougt (or Fought). Lacking title and final pages, and with an unusual typeface, this slightly scruffy item conceals a tale of innovation and piracy. Largely thanks to the papers of H.E. Poole (also housed in the Music Department) the story behind the music can be revealed.
Fougt’s early working life was spent as a mines inspector in Sweden; his career as a mineralogist brought him into close contact with the botanist Linnaeus, he even contributed to one of Linnaeus’ papers. An interest in printing and type-founding, and a judicious marriage to Elsa Momma, the daughter of Peter, the Royal Printer, enabled Fougt to turn his hobby into a career.
Having studied the new system of movable type recently developed by J.G.I. Breitkopf, Fougt realised that there was a potential market for cut-price music, and produced a cheaper version of Breitkopf’s musical type. The Swedish Academy of Sciences was enthusiastic and backed his request for an exclusive privilege, but family difficulties led to a move to London. There, in December 1767, he received a patent for “Certain new and curious types by me invented, for the printing of music notes as neatly … as hath been usually done by engraving…”
Around 1768 he moved from Salisbury Court to St. Martin’s Lane. Here he sold editions of sonatas by Sarti, Uttini, and Sabatini, and stationery. By April 1769 Fougt was also selling instruments, Charles Dibdin songs, and ballads for just a penny a page. Items printed by Fougt were sold in shops across London and Oxford. However, a move away from select sonatas to popular music was to bring disaster.
In July, an advert appeared in The Public Advertiser, alleging that songs from Dibdin’s opera The padlock had been pirated. The publisher had already been forced to pay costs, and Fougt was threatened with prosecution. It’s not clear what happened next, I can find no trace of an actual prosecution taking place, but following Dibdin’s threat there are few advertisements for Fougt’s publications. The wording of the advertisement suggests that the “prosecution” may have been inspired by jealousy and a touch of xenophobia as much as by a genuine fear of piracy – much is made of Fougt’s status as a foreigner. What is known is that by 1770 at the latest, Robert Falkener had taken over Fougt’s presses and type patents, and was selling music successfully from an address in Salisbury Court. Attentive readers will note that Fougt had initially lived in Salisbury Court, so it is likely that the two printers had known each other for some time. Fougt meanwhile hopped on a boat bound for Sweden, and was never to set foot in England again.
Back in Sweden he became the Royal Printer and stayed in this post until his death. A pioneer, who tried to make sheet music accessible to a much wider audience, it’s also possible that Fougt was guilty of piracy so there is perhaps a certain irony that some of his music has found its home in a copyright library.