Strauss and Hofmannsthal were each other's most prominent collaborators, and they produced some of their greatest work together, most notably the operas Der Rosenkavalier, Ariadne auf Naxos and Elektra. The men's other projects include the operas Die ägyptische Helena, Die Frau ohne Schatten, Arabella and Die Liebe der Danaë, as well as the ballet The Legend of Joseph and the reworking of Beethoven's instrumental music to Kotzebue's play The Ruins of Athens
European law allows the estate of a writer, composer or artist to retain copyright and receive royalties on a given work for 70 years after its creator's death. Hofmannsthal died in 1929, so his heirs stopped receiving royalties after 1999; the Strauss estate has continued to receive payments, however, as the composer did not die until 1949.
Hofmannsthal's heirs argued in their suit, according to an Associated Press report from last December, that librettist and composer had signed agreements in which full rights to their collaborations went to Strauss in exchange for payment to Hofmannsthal of a portion of the royalties earned from the works. (Evidently no expiration date was included in the contracts.) The Hofmannsthal party claimed in its petition that payments due for 2001 and 2002 alone ran to nearly $1 million.
In a decision announced today in Munich, the Bavarian state court determined, after examining a number of the original agreements as well as letters between the two men, that Strauss and Hofmannsthal both clearly intended that royalty income be shared between them, according to the AP.
According to the ruling, the Strauss estate must annually disclose its earnings from the works involved, whereupon the court will determine how much is owed to the Hofmannsthal estate. The decision can be appealed, reports the AP, though no statement about possible future appeals has yet been made by either party.
While the judges awarded payments to the plaintiffs for live performances of the Strauss-Hofmannsthal collaborations, they declined to include revenue from record sales or from performances that don't directly involve Hofmannsthal's texts (as with, for example, a suite of orchestral music from Der Rosenkavalier).