Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Being Cheated

Just as I get back into blogging, there is a good classical music scandal!  Osvaldo Golijov has been borrowing music from other composers in his compositions.  There is nothing new about borrowing, in fact the IU Jacobs School of Music maintains an online database of musical borrowing.  But the complaints, by Tom Manoff, Amanda MeerAnne Midgette, and Bob Keefer, are that Golijov's borrowing has gone beyond the level of inspiration to that of passing off another's work as his own.  There is discussion of this on the Sequenza21 blog as well.  The main story is of Golijov's "Siderous", commissioned by a whole slew of orchestras in honor of Henry Fogel.  Golijov credits Michael Ward-Bergeman for using the melody from his piece, “Barbeich,” as part of the work.  The charge is that it is more than just the melody used, it is significant structural elements as well.  Michael Ward-Bergeman is quoted as being fine with Golijov's borrowing, that it was all arranged.  So he is not the victim. 

Are the commissioning orchestras being victimized?  They expected a new work by Osvaldo Golijov. But Golijov was well-known to have collaborated with various other artists on his major works, such as Ayre and Ainadamar.  So any responsible commissioning agent could expect the possibility that Golijov would collaborate on this project as well.  One comment at Sequenza21 claims the work is considerably shorter than the original commission called for, but I would think the orchestras already dealt with that issue when Golijov delivered the piece.  The same commenter claims the audience is being victimized, because they are misinformed as to the provenance of the piece.  They came to hear Golijov, dammit!  Not Michael Ward-Bergeman!  Except the program notes do give credit to Mr. Ward-Bergeman, and audiences can still judge the work regardless of authorship.

That is an interesting question, about the role of the audience in questions of authorship.  Is an audience cheated when Mozart's Requiem is performed, though he did not compose all of it?  What about works that had been attributed to one composer for years, before new scholarship revealed a different composer?  Did all the previous audiences have a cheated listening experience?  My impression is that the audience is not harmed by unattributed collaborative efforts.  Clarifying sources can make the listening experience more interesting, such as tracing all of the quotations in an Ives sonata, or noting borrowings from Strauss' Death and Transfiguration in John Williams' score to Superman.  But there is no harm done in not revealing those sources either.

Then it comes down to what composing is.  When Danger Mouse combined the Beatles' "White" album and JayZee's Black Album, was it composing?  When Berio quoted from Mahler, or Corigliano quoted from Beethoven, was that composing?  I say yes, and would also call Golijov's collaborative efforts composing as well.

1 comment:

Elaine Fine said...

Thank you for the link to this database! It is a goldmine.