Musical borrowing in representative works from across history

This is a paper that focuses on the musical borrowing in representative works from across history. The paper also contains the aims of the module of this paper.

Musical borrowing in representative works from across history

Module learning outcomes
By the end of the taught part of the project, all students should be able to:
Firstly, identify different methods of musical borrowing in representative works from across history;
Secondly, recognise core theories of borrowing (within music and other related fields) and apply them to relevant musical examples;
Thirdly, reflect critically upon the relationship between these diverse historical borrowing practices and contemporary concepts of copyright, originality and ownership;
Lastly, discuss the ways in which practices of borrowing serve aesthetic or political goals in specific musical works.

Module summary
This project will explore musical borrowing: quotation, homage, rearrangement and outright theft. We will consider historical issues; questions of musical expression and meaning; overlaps with literature and cultural theory; and shifting ideas of originality and ownership.

Module aims

Stravinsky once famously claimed that ‘a good composer does not imitate; he steals’. Of course, we don’t have any record of Stravinsky saying this directly; we only have the word of Peter Yates, a lecturer who wrote a book about him. (And we all know what lecturers are like.) Anyway, even if Stravinsky didsay this, he was just lifting a neat phrase from the poet T.S. Eliot, who wrote (forty years earlier) that ‘immature poets imitate; mature poets steal’. And hewas just flipping around a truism from the Victorian era which claimed piously that ‘great poets imitate and improve [upon their models], whereas small ones steal and spoil’. (You can follow the whole trail on the Quote Investigatorwebsite.)

Whether or not Stravinsky said it, of course, he was right. Quotation, homage, rearrangement and outright theft are rife in music of every era, from Renaissance parody masses to contemporary YouTube mash-ups. (It seems a lot of these composers hadn’t done their Academic Integrity tutorials.) Of course, musical borrowing (the umbrella term by which all these practices are known) comes in many forms: affectionate homage or sly critique; openly acknowledged or carefully hidden; straightforward quotation, subtle reworking, total transformation or multi-layered collage. Lurking behind them all are some fundamental questions: why build a work around someone else’s ideas? What kind of conversation with the past is happening here? And what are the implications for modern concepts of originality, individuality and (dare I say it) copyright?

Musical borrowing in representative works from across history

These are the questions we’ll be tackling in this project. We’ll do it through lectures, group discussions and practical exercises. We’ll analyse examples of musical borrowing from across musical history, and we’ll be borrowing some ideas of our own from other fields (particularly literary theory) to help make sense of them. Concepts that will almost certainly come up include:
Quotation as critique (ironic distance) vs nostalgia (rose-tinted presence)
Transcription and arrangement as forms of musical commentary
Intertextuality, collage and also postmodernism
Music and the ‘anxiety of influence’
Copyright, sampling and plunderphonics

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