facing the (free) music

Let’s take a look at a couple of scenarios, in the context of our new world of music copyright awareness and enforcement:

#1 – Vienna, 1774: Ever listen to the middle – “Andante ma Adagio” –  movement of Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto? I mean really listen. It’s there, and it’s not even very subtle: this melody, written when the composer was just 18, was RE-used as the melody for his gorgeous aria, Porgi Amor from The Marriage of Figaro 12 years later.

Legal? Of course, this is Mozart borrowing from himself. Handel did it, Vivaldi did it, and they’re in in good company with countless others through the centuries all the way to today.

#2 – Vienna, 1782: Early springtime, and Mozart was preparing for a series of upcoming concerts for Lent. One of the new pieces to be premiered was his A Major Piano Concerto (#12), K414. While writing the work, he learned of the Jan. 1st death of his good friend, Johann Christian Bach. As a special tribute to his former mentor, Mozart borrowed one of J.C. Bach’s own melodies (from the opera La Calamita de Cuori) and used the theme as the basis for the new concerto’s poignant second movement.

Legal? Probably not. These days a reckless stunt like that could land Mozart in court, paying for representation to respond to “cease and decist” notifications, and having to create a defense for his unauthorized use of J.C.’s tune.

The world’s view of these things has changed much since Mozart’s time, in hugely significant ways that can’t be underestimated for their potential to change the course of today’s music. Borrowing isn’t “borrowing” anymore, it’s sampling, sometimes of original melodies and other times entire pieces of another artist’s recorded material. Intent, financial gain, and artistic control all figure into the larger conversation. Musical creativity is governed by strict copyright laws and it’s a hot point of contention on many fronts in today’s music scene.

On The Media dedicated their most recent program to a fascinating, in-depth exploration of the issues around these music laws.

Must hear this program, my friends.

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