Elegy of Others (2009)
Much of my recent work deals with the issue of reappropriation. Where do we get our ideas? What do we owe, if anything, to our sources of inspiration? Historically, composers have stolen ideas from each other regularly, reworking these into their music and taking all the credit (and the money, if they could). The invention of copyright was the first attempt at giving credit to the originators of ideas, but this has evolved over time into a corporate-controlled system of property that promotes the fiction that new ideas somehow spontaneously appear out of nothingness.
Composers have always taken each others’ ideas, and if they didn’t, there would be no composing. But now the big music companies would want us to believe that this is somehow wrong. It is, certainly, wrong to profit from the work of others without making any contribution oneself, but there are many uses of existing music that do make new, meaningful contributions. For this reason, I’ve taken an interest in quotation, collage, and related techniques. It’s a way to pay homage to the music that has influenced me while at the same time exposing the false idea that creativity comes out of nothingness. So here I am, cards on the table, showing everyone the music I was thinking of when working on this piece—by quoting that music.
Thus the title Elegy of Others. I wanted to write a piece that was reflective and sombre, and I wanted to make it a collage of the work of others. This was a particular challenge, because I have found collage better suited to fast, upbeat music than it is to the slow and sombre; quotations tend to lose their character when the tempo is slow, and phrases made up of long quotes do not cohere very well. For this reason, I had to approach this piece differently than in my previous work, transforming the material in more extreme ways for the sake of musical expression. In Elegy of Others, therefore, the quotations are not always immediately recognizable, though they do come to the surface periodically. Nevertheless, almost every note in Elegy of Others is quoted, with few exceptions. The pieces quoted are, in order of appearance:
- The Four Seasons, “Drunkards Asleep”, Antonio Vivaldi, 1723
- “The Girl from Ipanema”, Antonio Carlos Jobim, 1962
- “Everybody Hurts”, R.E.M., 1992
- “Dazed and Confused”, Led Zeppelin, 1968
- Die schöne Müllerin, “Des Müllers Blumen”, Franz Schubert, 1823