Podcast Episode 195: A Case of Musical Plagiarism

joyce hatto

When the English concert pianist Joyce Hatto died in 2006, she was remembered as a national treasure for the brilliant playing on her later recordings. But then doubts arose as to whether the performances were really hers. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review a surprising case of musical plagiarism, which touched off a scandal in the polite world of classical music.

We’ll also spot foxes in London and puzzle over a welcome illness.

See full show notes …

Precocious

https://books.google.com/books?id=rActAAAAYAAJ&pg=RA1-PA27

According to Barry Cooper’s Child Composers and Their Works, Frederick Ouseley (1825-1889) is “possibly the youngest child ever to compose a complete and coherent piece of music that still survives.” This piece is dated November 18, 1828, when Ouseley was 3 years and 98 days old. It was “apparently written down by his sister Mary Jane, for he began composing long before he learned to write; but his sisters appear not to have attempted to ‘correct’ his music in any way.”

Composer Sir John Stainer observed in 1889, “From the natural and easy way in which all the chords would fall under a tiny hand, there can be no doubt his sister succeeded in writing down exactly what he played and as he played.”

Perhaps ashamed of this trifling effort, Ouseley went on to compose an opera at age 8.

Diminuendo

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Franti%C5%A1ek_Xaver_Pokorn%C3%BD.jpg

At his death in 1794, Czech composer František Xaver Pokorný had written more than 160 symphonies, concertos, serenades, and divertimentos. But more than half of them were then reattributed to other composers. The culprit was apparently Theodor von Schacht, a competing Regensburg composer who may have been jealous of Pokorný’s large output. After Pokorný’s death it appears that Schacht went through more than half his compositions, systematically removed Pokorný’s name, and inserted the name of another composer who he thought might not find out. He assigned most of the pieces to composers whose names began with A or B, which suggests that Schacht might have intended to eradicate Pokorný’s name entirely.

It wasn’t until the early 1960s that musicologists Jan la Rue and J. Murray Barbour uncovered this strange crime and Pokorný was given proper credit. “It would seem as if Baron von Schacht had been galled by the fact that his lowly colleague (the name ‘Pokorny’ means ‘humble’) had written six or seven times as many orchestral works as he had himself,” Barbour wrote. “So, after Pokorny’s death, he had tried to bring him down to his level by falsifying … 109 works. This is a most extraordinary piece of jealousy and arrogance. But, after all, he almost did get away with it!”

(J. Murray Barbour, “Pokorny Vindicated,” Musical Quarterly 49:1 [January 1963], 38-58.)

Triangle

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Georges_Enesco_1930_crop.jpg

Violinist Georges Enesco was saddled with a poor pupil who eventually wanted to give a recital. Enesco agreed to accompany him on the piano but realized at the last minute that he needed a page turner. He prevailed on Alfred Cortot, who was sitting in the audience. A review the next morning read:

“There was a most remarkable concert last night at the Salle Pleyel. The man who should have been playing the violin was playing the piano, the man who should have been playing the piano was turning the pages, and the man who should have been turning the pages was playing the violin.”

(Likewise: “It is a maxim among practical statisticians that ‘The data you need are not the data you have, the data you have are not the data you want, and the data you want are not the data you need.'” — T.W. Körner, The Pleasures of Counting, 1996)

Remodeling

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Hall of Justice, as it appears in DC Comics, was modeled on a train station.

The Super Friends television series, in which the fortress first appeared in 1973, was produced by Cincinnati’s Hanna-Barbera, and background supervisor Al Gmuer based it on Union Terminal, a local landmark.

(Thanks, Steven.)

Concord

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Luigi_Boccherini_par_Daphn%C3%A9_du_Barry.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Guinness Book of Music Facts & Feats nominates Luigi Boccherini as “the most ingratiating composer”: In nearly 600 works comprising 1400 movements, the following directions appear:

  • Affettuoso (“affectionately”): 20 times
  • Grazioso (“gracefully”) or grazia (“with grace”): 25 times
  • Amoroso (“lovingly”): 37 times
  • Soave (“agreeably,” “sweetly,” “delicately,” “gently,” “caressingly,” “lightly”), also soave assai (“extremely …”) and soavita, and once even soave e con grazia: 54 times
  • Dolce (“sweetly”) or Dolcissimo (“very sweetly and gently”): 148 times

“Also to be found are Armonico (‘harmoniously’), con innocenza (‘with innocence’), piacere (‘pleasingly’), and allegretto gentile (‘not too fast, lightly and cheerfully,’ ‘pleasingly,’ ‘elegantly,’ ‘gracefully’), together with hundreds of directions calling for very quiet playing (pp and pp sempre).”

For comparison, Appassionato (“passionately”) appears only 8 times, con brio (“with fire”) only 6 times, and con forza (“with force”) only once.

Freehand

Type designer Hermann Zapf could reproduce a typeface by hand. In The Art of Hermann Zapf, an educational film he produced for Hallmark Cards in 1967, at 14:13 he draws Melior, a serif type used in newspapers such as the Village Voice.

Typeface designer Steve Matteson said, “Zapf was someone who could write 10-point type and it looked like a typeface. It was pretty astounding; his muscle control was so fluid.”

Zapf created around 200 typefaces, including Palatino, Optima, and Zapfino. When he died in 2015, “all the rest of us moved up one,” type designer Matthew Carter told the New York Times. “That’s my way of saying Hermann was on top.”

Think Pieces

Japanese artist Tatsuo Horiuchi creates digital art in Microsoft Excel. As he neared retirement he decided to take up painting, but he wanted to save the cost of brushes and pencils, so he used a tool he already owned, Microsoft’s popular spreadsheet program.

“I never used Excel at work but I saw other people making pretty graphs and thought, ‘I could probably draw with that,'” he told My Modern Met. “Graphics software is expensive, but Excel comes pre-installed in most computers … And it has more functions and is easier to use than Paint.”

He began painting in Excel in the year 2000. “I set a goal,” he says, “in 10 years, I wanted to paint something decent that I could show to people.” After only six years he took first prize at the Excel Autoshape Art Contest, and he’s been at it now for more than 15 years.

He sells the digital paintings as limited-edition prints that you can see and purchase here.

Cooperation

University of Minnesota percussionist Gene Koshinski’s composition “As One” has two performers (here, Koshinski and Tim Broscious) complementing each other on identical setups, splitting one complex piece into two complex halves.

More about Koshinski at his website.