Posts Tagged: Osvaldo Golijov

Is Osvaldo Golijov a musical thief?

A potential scandal in the world of contemporary classical music comes to us today from Eugene, OR of all places, via the Eugene Register-Guard.  Bob Keefer writes about the reaction of two audience members at the recent Eugene Symphony performance of Osvaldo Golijov‘s Siderius:

But when the concert opened with Golijov’s “Sidereus,” a 9-minute composition that premiered in 2010 in Memphis, Tenn., the two men looked at each other in shock.

That’s because, both said on Friday, they recognized large parts of Golijov’s composition from a different composer’s piece, one they both had been working with recently: accordionist Michael Ward-Bergeman’s 2009 work, “Barbeich.”

The two gentlemen in the audience that night were Brian McWhorter, a trumpet professor at the University of Oregon, and Tom Manoff, an NPR classical music critic and writer.  Mr. Manoff being the driven journalist that he is, has beaten me to the punch and offered a rather extensive blog post on this developing story in which he analyzes passages of both scores and tells us that they match up in many respects.

Gracious readers, here is a chance to listen and judge for yourselves.

First, a clip from about one minute into Sidereus, ostensibly by Mr. Golijov:

And a parallel fragment from Mr. Ward-Bergeman’s Barbeich for hyper-accordion:

It doesn’t take a musical genius to hear that these clips are two different versions of the same music.  Let’s take a listen to the B section:



You get the idea.  Here’s what Mr. Golijov said about the work in an interview with his publisher:

For the “Moon” theme I used a melody with a beautiful, open nature, a magnified scale fragment that my good friend and longtime collaborator, accordionist Michael Ward Bergeman came up with some years ago when we both were trying to come up with ideas for a musical depiction of the sky in Patagonia. I then looked at that theme as if through the telescope and under the microscope, so that the textures, the patterns from which the melody emerges and into which it dissolves, point to a more molecular, atomic reality. Like Galileo with the telescope, or getting close to Van Gogh’s brushstrokes.

While Mr. Golijov may not be able to come up with his own musical ideas, he is certainly a potent generator of BULLSHIT.  What I think he meant to say was that he took Mr. Ward-Bergeman’s theme and created an arrangement.

In his blog post Mr. Manoff writes that he is awaiting responses from both Mr. Golijov and Mr. Ward-Bergeman, and he suspects they must have had a financial or personal agreement.  Certainly they must have.  This “borrowing” is so obvious that Mr. Golijov never could have gotten away with just using it and not saying anything.  But is it plagiarism?

These things are rarely so clear-cut in music.  The various jobs that writers have in the profession – orchestrator, composer, arranger – leave tremendous room for interpretation.  A Composer may be nothing more than a tunesmith or a “whistler”; a professional orchestrator may in fact do the lion’s share of the actual composing.  So who gets the credit?  Look at the case of Robert Russell Bennett, the greatest of the Golden Age Broadway orchestrators: Bennett was a composer in his own right, and his compositions pale in comparison to the great numbers that he orchestrated for the likes of Richard Rodgers.  Rodgers may not have had the time or ability to form his own music into full-fledged musical fabrics, but obviously it was his material that made all the difference.

Then there’s Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.  Who was the composer and who was the arranger?  Were there any such boundaries?  Often one would write the first half of a piece and the other would complete it.  Duke almost always got the credit no matter how much work Strayhorn had done on the music.  But, so the thinking goes, this was to Billy Strayhorn’s benefit: the music sold much better with Duke’s name on it, and Strayhorn reaped significant financial rewards from their arrangement.

At least 9 out of the 11 minutes in Sidereus are based on Mr. Ward-Bergeman’s Barbeich.  Though Golijov adds what I presume to be his own introduction, interlude, and coda, and diverts the melody here and there, I think an honest musician would have to call this piece an arrangement.  Certainly many an arranger has done a lot more work than Golijov did and received less credit for it.  At the very least, I think it’s a little underhanded of Golijov to have fulfilled a commission under his own name with this work if he didn’t clear the concept with his publisher/commissioning agency.

You can listen to the entirety of Sidereus here and the entirety of Barbeich here and make up your own mind: what do you think?

A few additional remarks:

1) Mr. Ward-Bergeman does indeed have a long history of collaboration with Golijov: he is a member of the “Andalucian Dogs” on the Ayre disc, and a musician on the Tetro soundtrack.  Could this piece have been another instance of their musical collaboration?

2) I interviewed the work’s dedicatee, Mr. Henry Fogel, on the occasion of Sidereus‘s Chicago premiere and included a few extra notes about it in a blog post here.

3) “Sidereus” is one of the most awful titles in musical – nay, titular – history.

4) The accordion, and in fact all the members of the squeezebox family, are totally badass.  Witness.

5) This, in case you all didn’t read it already.

CSO Addenda: Golijov, Sibelius, Shostakovich

Osvaldo Golijov (1960 – )

Osvaldo Golijov is the composer of such blockbuster classical hits as The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind and the toe-tapping Pasión según San Marco:

Mr. Golijov’s pieces often have more the flavor of an ethnomusicological exploration, which makes a certain amount of sense for a composer of Argentinian birth who grew up on klezmer and tango and who has also lived in Israel and the U.S.  [Although, is it really ethnomusicological if it’s actually your ethnicity?  Discuss.]

Anyone who attended Thursday’s lecture was privy to insights from the work’s dedicatee, Mr. Henry Fogel.  Boosey & Hawkes has provided an equally enlightening interview with the composer about the genesis of the work.  You can listen to the work online in a performance conducted by Mei-Ann Chen (who gave the première in October 2010 in Memphis) with the New England Conservatory Philharmonia.  Also of note is Mr. Golijov’s growing filmography since becoming the go-to composer of Francis Ford Coppola.

Lest there be any confusion, the title of Mr. Golijov’s latest work, Sidereus, is in no way meant to sound like an hilarious mispronunciation of the next composer on the program.

Jean Sibelius (1865 – 1957)
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47 (1903, rev. 1905)

Sibelius’ violin concerto is far and above my favorite work in the genre, and one of my favorite works by the composer.  In fact, it’s one of the first pieces that got me into classical music.  You can view an introduction to the work here by the violinist Ida Haendel, who actually received a letter of appreciation from Sibelius after he had heard her performance of the work, and whose Wikipedia entry actually says the following:

She has the reputation of being as accomplished and brilliant a violinist as Yehudi Menuhin and Isaac Stern; but has said that had she been more photogenic, she would have been as famous.

Ida Haendel

Yehudi Menuhin and Isaac Stern, two violinists who Ida Haendel was not as attractive as

People sometimes said the same thing about Sibelius himself, but never to his face (see above).

But seriously folks, if you’re really into the Sibelius concerto, it’s worth your 10 bucks to invest in Leonidas Kavakos’ recording of the 1903 and 1905 versions of the work.  He is still the only artist to record the 1903 version, due to the Sibelius family’s wishes, which is pretty impressive.  He is also way, way hotter than Ida Haendel.

You’ll get to hear the intricate, Bach-like second cadenza that Sibelius later cut from the first movement of his concerto:

amongst many other interesting tidbits.

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906 – 1975)
Suite from Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District

OK, first of all, if you’re anything like me, you’ve always wondered just where IS the Mtsensk District.  It’s here:

The rest of this discussion I’m gonna cut and paste from my March 4, 2010 post about Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11:

Shostakovich’s troubles with the government began in the year 1936, at which point Joseph Stalin, eager to send a message to the artistic community, denounced Shostakovitch’s opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District as immoral and anti-soviet.  Let’s watch a bit of the opera and see if we can spot anything that Stalin may have found objectionable.  Remember to look very closely now:

At first glance, it looks pretty tame, but that Stalin always had a fine eye for detail.  Anyhoo, that led to this very famous headline from the Soviet newspaper Pravda:

which roughly translates to “Muddle instead of Music”, and which began a nightmarish 20 year period of heavy government repression and scare tactics aimed at keeping Shostakovitch in line.

I’d like to recommend two more valuable resources pertaining to Shostakovich’s music and life:

The first is the audio guide to chapter 7 of Alex Ross’s phenomenal book, The Rest is Noise.  Even if you haven’t read the book or don’t have a copy handy, the audio guide gives you a nice synopsis of the chapter on music in the 1930′s and 40′s USSR.

The second is an article by everybody’s favorite Slovenian Marxist-Lacanian-psychoanalytic philosopher, Slavoj Žižek, entitled “Shostakovich in Casablanca“.  In this article, Žižek compares Soviet repression of classical music to the Hollywood Hays code, in terms of what the censors expected and how an artist was meant both to abide by the code and simultaneously to circumvent it.  He posits that Shostakovich found whatever success he could with the Soviet regime because he understood this Janus-faced censorship, whereas Prokofiev just couldn’t figure it out.