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Composers 'stealing' folk themes

Uncle_DaveO 16 Jan 08 - 01:02 PM
Little Robyn 16 Jan 08 - 01:22 PM
Little Robyn 16 Jan 08 - 01:23 PM
John on the Sunset Coast 16 Jan 08 - 01:28 PM
Joe Offer 16 Jan 08 - 01:29 PM
peregrina 16 Jan 08 - 01:50 PM
katlaughing 16 Jan 08 - 01:57 PM
BuckMulligan 16 Jan 08 - 02:04 PM
Amos 16 Jan 08 - 02:07 PM
BuckMulligan 16 Jan 08 - 02:17 PM
GUEST 16 Jan 08 - 02:24 PM
Uncle_DaveO 16 Jan 08 - 02:30 PM
GUEST,The Mole Catcher's "Classically Folk" Appre 16 Jan 08 - 02:31 PM
Uncle_DaveO 16 Jan 08 - 02:50 PM
Don Firth 16 Jan 08 - 04:24 PM
KB in Iowa 16 Jan 08 - 04:32 PM
Don Firth 16 Jan 08 - 05:47 PM
Leadfingers 16 Jan 08 - 06:11 PM
Sorcha 16 Jan 08 - 06:42 PM
Little Robyn 16 Jan 08 - 07:22 PM
Bert 16 Jan 08 - 07:25 PM
dick greenhaus 16 Jan 08 - 08:03 PM
Don Firth 16 Jan 08 - 09:11 PM
Rowan 16 Jan 08 - 10:49 PM
Ernest 17 Jan 08 - 02:26 AM
GUEST 17 Jan 08 - 02:41 AM
GUEST,fogie 17 Jan 08 - 04:24 AM
Little Robyn 17 Jan 08 - 04:53 AM
GUEST,DaveH 17 Jan 08 - 04:55 AM
mattkeen 17 Jan 08 - 05:11 AM
Mooh 17 Jan 08 - 07:52 AM
GUEST,Neil D 17 Jan 08 - 12:13 PM
GUEST,Neil D 17 Jan 08 - 01:48 PM
Don Firth 17 Jan 08 - 03:21 PM
Peace 17 Jan 08 - 04:26 PM
GUEST,Jon 17 Jan 08 - 05:02 PM
Peace 17 Jan 08 - 05:09 PM
dick greenhaus 17 Jan 08 - 05:27 PM
GUEST,andy 17 Jan 08 - 05:52 PM
Peace 17 Jan 08 - 05:59 PM
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Subject: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 16 Jan 08 - 01:02 PM

Maybe someone can clear up a family disagreement in our house.

Last night my Beautiful Wife (a classical musician) and I had been watching a Rainbow Quest video, and Pete Seeger sang "Away Out There" with the stirring yodel refrain.

One of us (and I won't say which one, for fear of prejudicing the reactions) mentioned that "Stravinsky stole that theme from a Cossack folk song."

The other of us objected to the word "stealing" in this context, while recognizing that it's not been uncommon and is respectable for composers to utilize themes from folk music.

The first one, as justification for the use of that word, mentioned a quote once heard from a prominent 19th or 20th century classical composer, semihumorously stating something to the effect that it was the pathway of genius in composing to steal good themes. Using the word "steal", or maybe "theft".

The objector-against-"steal" stoutly denied that any respectable composer would have used that word in that context.

First question: Does anyone recall any such composer's statement with the word "steal"? Or does anyone have any good leads for tracking down any such quotation, if it exists?

Second question: Can anyone name the Stravinsky piece that utilizes that Cossack theme that shows up in the "Away Out There" yodel?

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: Little Robyn
Date: 16 Jan 08 - 01:22 PM

I thought 'Away out there' had a bit of Swan Lake in the chorus, at least in the music on the record.
And I know the quote you mean but can't quite pin it down - something like "*****(can't remember who) steals, genius borrows."
It's a bit early in the morning for me.
Robyn


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: Little Robyn
Date: 16 Jan 08 - 01:23 PM

It wasn't Leonard Bernstein was it?


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: John on the Sunset Coast
Date: 16 Jan 08 - 01:28 PM

Vaughan Williams, Aaron Copeland, Smetana, Virgil Thomson, Brahms and many others have interpolated folk music themes in various of their serious compositions. They have sometimes hinted at the music, but more often, it seems to me, have used much of the music itself and turned it into something different though recognizable.
On the other hand, I hear the opening notes to 'HaTikvah', the Israel national anthem, in a brief, recurring passage in Smetana's 'Ma Vlast'.
And the notes for 'Tho' April showers may come your way' (the old Al Jolson hit) can be head one time in the Winter movement of Vivaldi's, 'The Four Seasons'. Was Louis Silver, the composer, aware of Vivaldi?
I'll bet the real musicians and musicologists out there can come up with myriad {not a myriad of} other, better examples.


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: Joe Offer
Date: 16 Jan 08 - 01:29 PM

Well, there's Pete Seeger, quoting Woody Guthrie:
    "Oh, he stole from me, but I steal from everybody."

I believe classical composers would tend to use words like "incorporate a traditional folk theme" instead of "steal."
-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: peregrina
Date: 16 Jan 08 - 01:50 PM

TS Eliot: bad poets borrow, good poets steal.


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: katlaughing
Date: 16 Jan 08 - 01:57 PM

American composer Roy Harris did use folk songs, fairly intact, and with respect, as well as acknowledgement. There is no way his use would be a case of "stealing." I don't like use of that word, either.


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: BuckMulligan
Date: 16 Jan 08 - 02:04 PM

The "good/great" "borrow/steal" drill has been attributed all over the place, notably to Eliot and Picasso.

What Eliot really said was:

"One of the surest tests [of the superiority or inferiority of a poet] is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest."

Eliot, T.S., "Philip Massinger," The Sacred Wood, New York: Bartleby.com, 2000.


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: Amos
Date: 16 Jan 08 - 02:07 PM

Hey!! Plump, stately, Buck Mulligan!! Long time no see in these wasteland reaches. Introibo ad altare dei, pal, and give my regards to Newton Minnow if you see him...




A


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: BuckMulligan
Date: 16 Jan 08 - 02:17 PM

Well golly, thanks for noticin'

Been lurking a fair piece.


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: GUEST
Date: 16 Jan 08 - 02:24 PM

I also believe that Vaughn Williams stated the fact when he used a folk tune.


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 16 Jan 08 - 02:30 PM

Got it! And it was so OB-vious! (Given that the discussion was about Stravinsky's "theft" of the Cossack folk theme.) Just a little Google-work, which I should have done before starting this thread.

A good composer does not imitate; he steals.
Igor Stravinsky

Now, the second question: Can anyone tie down the Stravinsky piece in which that theme appears? Not Pulcinella, I'm sure. I think not Rite of Spring. Not L'Histoire du Soldat.   I know it's on an old vinyl 33 record in our family library, which I can't play at this time. But which one?

Anyone?

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: GUEST,The Mole Catcher's "Classically Folk" Appre
Date: 16 Jan 08 - 02:31 PM

"incorporate a traditional folk theme"
and incorporate they did...I have no problem with this

"Vaughn Williams stated the fact when he used a folk tune."

Indeed he did, on many occasions, so he was hardly being subrosa about it


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 16 Jan 08 - 02:50 PM

I now believe Stravinsky used the Cossack theme in question in Firebird.   I have been known to be wrong, however (a handsome admission, if I do say so!)

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: Don Firth
Date: 16 Jan 08 - 04:24 PM

The first person to ever use the term "folk song" was Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803), a German philosopher and collector of volkslieder (folk songs). He was referring to songs of the "rural peasant class." He noted that there were marked differences in style and sound between the volkslieder of different nations, and often between different regions of a single nation. He suggested to composers of his day that if they wished to give their music a regional or national character, they should listen to—and make use of—the themes they heard in folk music. Many have done so, such as the aforementioned Bartok, Vaughan-Williams, Copeland, etc. Grieg. Smetana. Dvorak used both American ("New World Symphony") and Czech ("Rusalka") themes. Lots of composers incorporate folk songs, old hymn tunes, all kinds of stuff in their music. It works. Mission accomplished.

But don't make the mistake of thinking these composers can't—or haven't—written a lot of darned good original stuff. Most of it is original. And usually the way they incorporate other things into their compositions is quite original.

Vaughan-Williams' "Fantasia on Greensleeves" uses two English folk songs, "Greensleeves' and "Lovely Joan," and he doesn't make a whole lot of changes in the original melodies of these songs. They're right out there in the open. But all the arrangement and orchestration is his, and the way he puts the two songs together—songs with similar story themes (young man trying to 'have his way' with a young woman who is not being too cooperative)—and interlaces them, is quite original and very nicely done. Very English and pastoral, which is what he was trying to do. He succeeds.

Hardly "stealing."

Composers have been borrowing from each others for as far back as anyone can remember. Oftentimes, the composer borrowed from regards it as an honor or an homage. And sometimes the borrowing composer is quite frank and open about it: Rachmaninoff's "Variations on a Theme of Paganini," Fernando Sor's virtuoso guitar piece, "Variations on a Theme from 'The Magic Flute' by Mozart," and a whole list of others where the composer tells you who he borrowed from.

Leonard Bernstein borrowed a theme from the second movement of Beethoven's "Emperor Concerto" and used it as the melody of "There's a Place for Us" in West Side Story. Some music critic spotted it and got all bent out of shape about it, accusing Bernstein of plagiarism. Bernstein responded, "Of course I borrowed it! Composers have always borrowed from each other. And besides, it's too beautiful a melody to be used only once!" Other musicians and music critics agreed with Bernstein and told the complaining critic to take two aspirin and go to bed, then spend some time learning something about the history of music.

It's usually only popular music writers who get their noses out of joint if someone uses a tune similar to something they've written. Gives them a chance to sue. Wasn't there some unpleasantness about Lennon's (or somebody's) "My Sweet Lord?"

Tempest in a tea cup.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: KB in Iowa
Date: 16 Jan 08 - 04:32 PM

George Harrison was sued for stealing "He's So Fine" and turning it into "My Sweet Lord"

Harrison lost the suit if I recall correctly. The main melody line is quite similar.


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: Don Firth
Date: 16 Jan 08 - 05:47 PM

Yeah, that was it. One wonders in a case like this whether Harrison consciously used the tune of "He's So Fine" or if it was an "ear-worm" floating around in his head (which happens to all of us from time to time) and he used it inadvertantly for "My Sweet Lord," not fully realizing that it came from outside his head instead of inside. Those things happen.

Also, it's not at all impossible for two people (especially if they're dealing with the same genre of music) to come up with very similar tunes quite independently. I think it would take a note-by-note analysis and comparison of the tunes in question, and then one still couldn't be absolutely sure.

As Deep Throat remarked, "Hmm. Tricky!"

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: Leadfingers
Date: 16 Jan 08 - 06:11 PM

And the Folkies have 'borrowed' from Classics a few times too - John O Dreams is Sleeping Beauty , Marsdens The Drovers is Vivaldi !!


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: Sorcha
Date: 16 Jan 08 - 06:42 PM

I think it was Firebird too. And Mozart borrowed from Haydn. I prefer borrow to steal.


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: Little Robyn
Date: 16 Jan 08 - 07:22 PM

I thought John o'Dreams was Finlandia??
Robyn


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: Bert
Date: 16 Jan 08 - 07:25 PM

The more that folk music gets used the better. With one exception, Those &^%*&%ing morons who take dance music and change it so that you can't dance to it.


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 16 Jan 08 - 08:03 PM

When 'Omer smote 'is bloomin' lyre,
He'd 'eard men sing by land an' sea;
An' what he thought 'e might require,
'E went an' took --the same as me!

The market-girls an' fishermen,
The shepherds an' the sailors, too,
They 'eard old songs turn up again,
But kep' it quiet -- same as you!

They knew 'e stole; 'e knew they knowed,
They didn't tell, nor make a fuss,
But winked at 'Omer down the road,
An' 'e winked back -- the same as us!

Rudyard Kipling


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: Don Firth
Date: 16 Jan 08 - 09:11 PM

"John o' Dreams." Definitely Tchaikovsky.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: Rowan
Date: 16 Jan 08 - 10:49 PM

Many people seem to think that "In an English Country Garden" exists solely because of Percy Grainger's genius as a composer unaware of the fact that he was an assiduous collector of folk music and had collected the tune from William Kimber's playing. This has been discussed elsewhere on Mudcat but I have also known lecturers in university music departments assert emphatically that all folk music owes it existence to the efforts of composers; and they meant "classical" composers.

There was a famous dustup in Oz 30 or so years ago when George Dreyfus, in response to a commission to compose the theme tune for a TV series set in Victoria's goldfields, took his cue from the tune to "Ten thousand miles away"; the fact that his opening bars were bare and undecorated notes of the original tune, played on a banjo, didn't help his case very much in the public's mind. But his final product was, nonetheless, a good composition.

Cheers, Rowan


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: Ernest
Date: 17 Jan 08 - 02:26 AM

It is "stealing" if you don`t like the second user.

Otherwise it is "creative adoption".

Or for the ecologically challenged: "recycling".


;0)
Ernest


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: GUEST
Date: 17 Jan 08 - 02:41 AM

It is "stealing" if you don`t like the second user.

I'm inclined to it's stealing unless you credit your source. "Variations on this traditional folk song" seems fine to me but "my entirely new work" when it is in fact based on "this traditional folk song" doesn't go to well.


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: GUEST,fogie
Date: 17 Jan 08 - 04:24 AM

Tell you what I found a long time ago....
Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony has bits very similar to Richard Roger's Sound of Music!!
Everybody nicks things.


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: Little Robyn
Date: 17 Jan 08 - 04:53 AM

It's Pathetique. Yes, Tchaikovsky's 6th symphony.
Robyn


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: GUEST,DaveH
Date: 17 Jan 08 - 04:55 AM

Mind you, what gets my goat is the royalties/PRS distribution.
Can't remember the figures exactly, but I believe that if a folkie does a "Trad Arr" they get about 20%, while RVW/Percy Grainger etc would get 100%.
Hmmmm....snobbery?
DaveH


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: mattkeen
Date: 17 Jan 08 - 05:11 AM

Other composers, I feel, should follow Vaughan Williams example and give credit - on the general side though, its important that the music(trad/folk) is getting the extra exposure by people adapting/stealing it.

After all, folk musicians are essentially doing the same thing - but we nearly always(!) credit Anon.


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: Mooh
Date: 17 Jan 08 - 07:52 AM

Are we not stealing from previous threads?

Purcell's Trumpet Tune and Arkansas Traveler have a couple of nearly identical measures...

Peace, Mooh.


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: GUEST,Neil D
Date: 17 Jan 08 - 12:13 PM

Yeah, that was it. One wonders in a case like this whether Harrison consciously used the tune of "He's So Fine" or if it was an "ear-worm" floating around in his head (which happens to all of us from time to time) and he used it inadvertantly for "My Sweet Lord," not fully realizing that it came from outside his head instead of inside. Those things happen.

   I recall John Lennon being asked about this in the Playboy interview. He said that George knew what he was doing and could have change a few notes and got away with it but chose not to.


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: GUEST,Neil D
Date: 17 Jan 08 - 01:48 PM

Christy Moore put a Bobby Sands poem, "The Voyage", to the tune of Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" resulting in the song "Back Home in Derry". He said he thinks Mr. Lightfoot likely got the "aire" from somewhere else. Does anyone know if this is so and what the earlier tune might be?


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: Don Firth
Date: 17 Jan 08 - 03:21 PM

Woody Guthrie rarely wrote original tunes, he just set new words to pre-existing tunes. Bob Dylan did pretty much the same thing.

Is it okay for folkies to use melodies written by other people, but not for classical music composers? If not, then why not?

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: Peace
Date: 17 Jan 08 - 04:26 PM

If they are really 'folk themes', how can they be stolen by folk. By definition, the folk already own them.


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: GUEST,Jon
Date: 17 Jan 08 - 05:02 PM

I don't see a difference, Don. It's the crediting/acknowledging that bothers me whoever.

And Peace, I'd suggest if I wrote "my song" and the tune was really say "the wild rover", I'd be laying some personal claim to it if I didn't credit it as trad. I suppose now "my tune" rather than "the peoples".


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: Peace
Date: 17 Jan 08 - 05:09 PM

I agree that if it's considered to be trad, and there is no author ascribed, then it should be credited as "Trad; arrangement by Joe Blow"

And Jon, have a nice day.


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 17 Jan 08 - 05:27 PM

Well, all of Woody's stuff is copyrighted (and the copyrights are diligently enforced)--words and music. Don't suppose anyone has had sufficient interest to challenge them in court.


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: GUEST,andy
Date: 17 Jan 08 - 05:52 PM

borrowing, adapting, utilising,recycling,plagiarizing,so what ! songs or music in all their different genres will reach all peoples which can only be good.


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Subject: RE: Composers 'stealing' folk themes
From: Peace
Date: 17 Jan 08 - 05:59 PM

Glad you cleared that up.


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