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Naughty Mozart?

Peter Clark

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When Mozart wrote out the Allegri Miserere which was a closely guarded Vatican-only piece, was this the first case of an llegal download?:D

In 1910 Fritz Kreisler published his arrangement of Tartini's (1692-1770) supposed Variations on a Theme of Corelli, and 25 years later admitted that it was a pastiche which he himself had composed. I like this piece, which perhaps doesn't say much for my musical taste, and many years ago I tried to find the Corelli work from which the theme was taken, without success.


Earlier this year my wife bought a CD, Bolivian Baroque, performed by Florilegium, Baroque music from the missions of Chiquitos and Moxos Indians. The first piece was a setting by Zipoli (1688-1726) of Beatus Vir with a small choir, two violins and continuo. To my surprise the Corelli (1653-1713) theme appeared on the strings, first in fragments and then complete, in counterpoint and alternation with the voices.


Zipoli had been in Rome at the same time as Corelli, before training as a priest and going to Bolivia, where, probably, this was written. At that time there was no copyright, and copying was seen as a compliment to the original composer (presumably if the original composer's name was acknowledged) so Zipoli was committing no crime, but I wonder if he thought that 300 years later someone would notice his "borrowing".


On searching further I found the theme in Corelli's Violin Sonata op 5 no 10, and just to show that this was no coincidence, I found that Zipoli had published a keyboard arrangement of Op 5 no 7. This is just a skeleton, a single bass line (no figuring) and a treble line stripped of all ornamentation. Clearly it requires imaginative reconstruction and the insertion of some suitable ornaments.


Perhaps Mozart's was the first strictly illegal download, but many other composers were in the habit of borrowing from each other, with or without acknowledgment. I bet that when Zipoli went to Bolivia he though it unlikely that news of his borrowing would ever get back to Corelli. (And, as the Mozart, Kreisler, Tartini, Corelli and Zipoli pieces have nothing to do with the organ, I guess that Peter Clark and I are way off topic).

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It's such a shame that Mozart's copy of the Allegri doesn't survive. We would then have some real evidence for what it was that the Sistine choir actually sang. Whatever it was it was it was not the Mendelssohn/Rockstro version with which we are all familiar - the one with all the high Cs. I seem to remember reading a theory that the stratospheric passages were due to a bogus modulation having crept in. When the modulationis exicised and the putative original reading restored, the high passage comes out a fourth lower, i.e. the treble's top note is G, which is far more credible (if infinitely more disappointing). I think the details are in Early Music Review somewhere. I suppose I shall have to go and look it out now.


As far as cribbing other composers goes, it would be hard to beat Thomas Morley. The end of his motet Domine Dominus noster, written in 1576, cribs verbatim the end of Byrd's Libera me, published the previous year (though this might have been a deliberate tribute to his teacher). His Gaude Maria virgo and Laboravi in gemitu meo are reworkings of motets by Philips and Rogier respectively. John Milsom once told me that the text of Nolo mortem peccatoris is the beginning of a long poem that exists in the British Library ascribed to John Redford. He wondered whether the music might have been Redford's too. Since it has no similarity with the style of Redford's known choral music (a mere two pieces) I would doubt a straight misattribution, but could it be yet another reworking? Even more blatantly, his five-part Balletts borrow very heavily from Gastoldi. For example, Sing we and chant it is based on Gastoldi's A lieta vita, which in turn became the German chorale In dir ist Freude - an interesting programming possibility there.

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William Croft did likewise with his Funeral Sentences - using Purcell's setting of "Thou knowest Lord" when the moment comes. (As I believe he said at the time, "the reason I did not compose that verse anew should be obvious to every musician...")


It is a curious twist that, where imitation was once considered the highest form of flattery, it is now considered illegal! Composers have always had to make a living; I suppose the difference now is that there's no more patronage as in centuries gone by. (With a member of Royalty employing you to supply a new work every day, copying other people's music was probably a life-saver if the Muse dried up...)

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