Founded in 1901 in Vienna, and originally intended to provide the core classical works and educational works to the Austrian market (which had until then been dominated by Leipzig-based publishers), the firm soon expanded to become one of the most important publishers of modern music.
In 1904, UE acquired Aibl publishers, and so acquired the rights to many works by Richard Strauss and Max Reger, but it was the arrival of Emil Hertzka as managing director in 1907 (who remained until his death in 1932) which really pushed the firm towards new music. Under Hertzka, UE signed contracts with a number of important contemporary composers, including Béla Bartók and Frederick Delius in 1908; Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schoenberg in 1909 (Mahler's Symphony No. 8 was the first work UE acquired an original copyright to); Anton Webern and Alexander von Zemlinsky in 1910; Karol Szymanowski in 1912, and Leos Janacek in 1917. Through their association with Schoenberg, they also published many works by Alban Berg.
The firm's avant garde directions continued after World War II, when UE published works by a number of significant composers, among them Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, Morton Feldman, Mauricio Kagel, György Kurtág, György Ligeti and Karlheinz Stockhausen.
UE have also published several significant historical editions, including the complete works of Claudio Monteverdi. In collaboration with Schott, they have published the Wiener Urtext Edition series since 1972. Originally consisting of works for one or two performers by composers from Johann Sebastian Bach to Johannes Brahms, the series was later expanded to include a limited number of later works, such as the Ludus Tonalis of Paul Hindemith.