Max Dreyfus

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b. 1874, Kuppenheim, Germany, d. 12 May 1964, Brewster New York, USA. Dreyfus went to the USA at the age of 14 and was soon working for music publisher, T.B. Harms. He played piano as a songplugger, eventually…
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b. 1874, Kuppenheim, Germany, d. 12 May 1964, Brewster New York, USA. Dreyfus went to the USA at the age of 14 and was soon working for music publisher, T.B. Harms. He played piano as a songplugger, eventually rising to become company manager. When Harms’ health failed, Dreyfus bought him out. Publishing hits, such as ‘Poor Butterfly’, and the score of Floradora, Dreyfus soon built the company into the biggest in music publishing. A man of integrity, he made many friends and was widely regarded with respect. Dreyfus was a gifted talent spotter and his encouragement led to career advancement for Jerome Kern and George Gershwin, two years before the latter wrote his first complete Broadway score, La, La, Lucille. Reportedly, Dreyfus told the composer, ‘I feel you have some good stuff in you. It’ll come out... I’ll gamble on you. I’ll give you $35 a week without any set duties.’

Among other composers in those early days were Cole Porter, Arthur Schwartz, Vincent Youmans, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. It was through Dreyfus that Rodgers and Hart’s songs reached a wide public with sheet music sales of ‘Manhattan’ and ‘Here In My Arms’. Dreyfus did not capitalize upon these successes to the detriment of the songwriters, instead he established company policy whereby composers, lyricists and librettists were in partnership with the publishing company. Other songwriters with whom Dreyfus worked were Irving Caesar, Anne Caldwell, Buddy De Sylva, Lew Brown and Ray Henderson, E. Ray Goetz, Sigmund Romberg, Harold Rome, Jule Styne, Kurt Weill, and Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe; in the case of the latter pair, Dreyfus published their My Fair Lady.

In his early years at Harms, Dreyfus wrote and published ‘Cupid’s Garden’ under the name Max Eugene, in recognition of Eugene Lesser, a violinist who had befriended the young man when he was a lowly songplugger. In 1914, Dreyfus became a member of ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), serving as a board member until shortly before his death. Towards the end of the 20s, Dreyfus sold part of his empire to Music Publishers Holding Corporation, a subdivision of Warner Bros., for a reported $8 million. He concurrently acquired the UK company, Chappell Ltd., of which his younger brother, Louis Dreyfus, took charge. All of the companies in which Dreyfus had an interest continued to grow in power and wealth through the following decades.