Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Guilmant Rises from the Dead

In recent essays, I wrote about the sloppy “research” and recycled errors that characterize so many of the program notes that seem to be spreading online like some sort of plague (read it HERE). I also wrote about the blatant plagiarism, made possible by the Internet, by which some people who call themselves “program annotators” disseminate the dross and present it as legitimate (read it HERE).

But really, what I found recently really should win some sort of prize.

In the past few months, I’ve been deeply engaged in study of the life and music of Maurice Duruflé, the French organist and composer. I found this “fact” in a biographical note posted at http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Lib/Durufle-Maurice.htm:

“At age 17 [i.e., in 1919], upon moving to Paris, he [Duruflé ] took private organ lessons with Charles Tournemire (whom he assisted at Ste-Clotilde until 1927), Guilmant and Vierne.”

[sad stuff redacted]

Wait a minute.

Duruflé studied with Guilmant? That’s very interesting, considering that GUILMANT DIED IN 1911, eight years before Duruflé moved to Paris in 1919!

In an effort to understand how an error like this could happen, I did a little more research. Duruflé’s second teacher in Paris, Louis Vierne (1870-1937), had studied with Guilmant and was strongly influenced by him, passing on to his students, particularly Duruflé, Guilmant’s artistry in organ registration. Perhaps the person who originated the error misunderstood the relationships between Guilmant, Vierne, and Duruflé.

OK, we can forgive that (sort of). But we cannot forgive those who perpetuate the errors by copying and pasting without verifying the “facts” that they “research” and “write” about. To see how an error can quickly become a “fact.” try searching in Google this exact phrase from the erroneous note (without enclosing it in quotes):

At age 17, upon moving to Paris, he took private organ lessons with Charles Tournemire
A little diligent searching will reveal at least three “program notes” that incorporate the error about Guilmant’s purportedly being a teacher of Duruflé. Though the wordings vary slightly, they are all clearly cribbed from the same source.




Not to mention the fact that these program note “writers” (copyists might be a better word) are all stealing from each other!

But wait, there’s more!

The “fact” is actually published in what purports to be a reputable book, A Conductor's Guide to Choral-orchestral Works: Twentieth century, part II, by Jonathan D. Green, who is the author of several books of this sort. View the excerpt here:


It does make one question the veracity of the rest of the information in the book, and of the author’s other books, and of the publisher’s other titles….

Well, come and hear the concert, which will be lovely. Guilmant would have loved it.

1 comment:

  1. PBS recently did a piece on just such myths involving Walter Cronkite, it only took one author to publish one error and it became perpetuated as truth and even repeated by Cronkite himself. With the vast amount of material published in today's environment fact checking becomes ever more important but also much more difficult. Plagiarism is another whole problem which has no excuse, unfortunately the honest mistake of disseminating false information is becoming more and more common.

    Bob Eaton


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