Boy, the mob is out to get him.
A "scandal" has broken about the credited incorporation of a section of a piece used with permission by another composer into a new work with Osvaldo Golijov. My thesis statement here: Classical Music is Lame as it has nothing better to talk about.
I thought I might add my thoughts about this controversy as it has turned into a true mob scene with aims at character assassination of a very nice guy who was recently responsible for bringing Philip Glass' suite from The Hours to the Chicago Symphony MusicNOW Series (not the "real" orchestra season, as the major orchestras of America still refuse to acknowledge the Philip Glass is alive). This act of programming took courage and music fans in Chicago are indebted to him for it.
The discussion has turned from "Golijov used of a section of a piece in his piece," to "he's done this before" to outright accusations of plagiarism, fraud, and intimations that he plagiarizes because he can't meet deadlines despite the fact that other composers regularly don't meet deadlines on high profile commissions.
It's a disappointment that there are major journalists involved in the fray including Alex Ross of the New Yorker and Anne Midgette of the Washington Post.
Both journalists document the story. Midgette concluding with:
"I don’t think that what Golijov did with Ward-Bergeman’s piece is actually plagiarism if it happened with the original composer’s approval. But I do think that this is part of a pattern that is (clearly, since this “Siderus” episode may spiral into one of those viral media frenzies) going to be increasingly problematic for him in the future — to say nothing of diminishing him as an artist."
"Yet, whatever the sources, Golijov’s output in recent years has paled next to “La Pasión,” “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind,” and other works from a decade or more ago. He has repeated familiar gestures, submitted works shorter than expected, and, on several occasions, failed to deliver commissions on schedule. His many admirers are hoping that he recovers his creative energies in his Violin Concerto, which Leonidas Kavakos and the Berlin Philharmonic are scheduled to perform in April. It was announced for an L.A. Phil première last year, but, in a now too familiar story, Golijov did not finish it in time."
Midgette is contributing to the "viral" internet element yet takes no responsibility for doing so. The Ross report is consistent with recent problems that I've experienced in his reporting. Often his favorite living composers are spared similar judgment despite equally egregious "borrowing." In fact those artists are trumpeted as being totally original voices who will live forever and those composers he thinks less of are dismissed. In one incident Ross published a piece on film composers a few years ago and he assaulted John Williams:
"Williams re-creates more often than he imitates; he is an accomplished pasticheur, able to make music of any image thrown his way. As such, he is a master of his art, even if he has no style to call his own."
A great many people would disagree with the idea that Williams does not have his own voice. Not only did this show a contempt of the medium and the tradition of film music, it also showed that he picks and chooses his targets with inconsistency. Williams is an accomplished pasticheur but John Adams is not? For that matter Boulez is not doing pastiche of Schoenberg? Arguably one could say that Philip Glass is copying a style pioneered by Bernard Herrmann in the 1950s.
Igor Stravinsky: "Good composers don't borrow, they steal." In the extreme, Charles Ives was very clear that his music didn't belong to him or anyone else to the point where he didn't copyright it and spent money suing anyone who attempted to copyright his music. The exchange of musical ideas throughout time is fluid. Especially in our time classical music has gratefully reached a point where, like pop music, one can, without shame, talk about one's influences. As Ross correctly states it's only in the post-Beethoven world that has informed many people's perception of a pure sort of art. I have news for everyone: there is no such thing as pure art. On this front Beethoven did much more harm than good.
I'm not sure what inspired this vitriol, and I don't know any of the pieces in question, but I do know that that in this post-post-post modern world, composers don't reinvent the wheel, they contextualize. Most of the arguments being provoked by this discussion will point out exactly what's wrong with our perception of exactly what music is in our society. We should use as the starting point in our conversation with: Though no art is truly singular or original, it is a search for beauty in the human experience and seeks to enrich people's lives.
Even if such a piece of pure music did exist in a vaccum, it would exist in the listener's mind against the context of all the other music in the history of the world.
The body of work Golijov has created over the years should put him beyond this type of nonsense. And to besmirch someone publicly or to simply intimate that he steals other's music is wrong.
Plagiarism charges can be dealt with in court. Whereas the damage that this controversy might cause will follow Golijov for years and years. The benefit of the doubt should rest with him, and in the meantime everyone should keep in mind that in fact no music is truly original.
* Feb.23, 2012
I have now heard the works in question and I'm even more resolute in my defense of Golijov. Firstly the Ward-Bergman piece seems to me very much influenced, dangerously so, by Yann Tiersen. Secondly, Golijov had previously used this WB piece in his 2009 piece Radio for WNYC's Greene Space. It's a catchy ditty. Both Sidereus and Radio use the WB piece as a launching point. I heard Respighi, another rip-off artist's, Rossiniana this morning. I wonder what sort of scandal enveloped that premiere.