Musicologist says Mozart, Bach 'borrowed'

May 31, 1985
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NORMAL, Ill. -- A music specialist, sounding a possible sour note for Mozart and Bach fans, says some classical composers have been wrongly credited for works they borrowed while trying to earn a living as 'working musicians.'

Roar Schaad of Illinois State University said Thursday more than a few famous composers are not wholly responsible for compositions credited to them.

'Two and three hundred years ago there were different publishing procedures and, of course, there was no such thing as copyright laws,' Schaad said.

'One composer would rearrange, rescore or adapt another composer's music. Today, it's illegal, but then there were no legal restrictions and, besides, it was considered flattering to have your work used by another composer.'

For example, Schaad said, Johann Sebastian Bach's 'Concerto for Four Harpsichords' is actually a transcription of Vivaldi's 'Concerto for Four Violins.'

'People knew it was Vivaldi's piece. Bach was paying homage to his fellow composer by using his music,' said Schaad, a music instruction specialist. 'It was not considered plagiarism or deceptive then.'

Schaad said Bach and other classical composers were forced to 'churn out' works for church services and special events. Bach, he said, also had 20 children to support.

'We put composers, especially from those days, on a pedestal,' Schaad said. 'They were working musicians who had to come up with music and sometimes would borrow from any source.'

At one point, Mozart needed a symphony and was running out of time, Schaad said.

'So he took a Michael Haydn symphony, added an introduction and created Mozart's 'Symphony No. 37,'' Schaad said. 'People knew this was going on. In return, Mozart gave Haydn two compositions -- duets for violin and viola.'

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