One of the principles to which I adhere in my work as a program annotator is to resist drawing from the tired, recycled information about composers and their works that seems to have burgeoned uncontrollably since the advent of the Internet. Too many annotators seem almost reflexive in their gathering and regurgitation of any available information, without bothering to do any independent research to verify or refute the program essays from which they're cribbing.
When I’m doing background research for program annotations, I naturally research and read as much material I can: books, reference works, articles, CD liner notes, interviews, and yes, the many program essays that are available online. When I’m reading and studying many sources on a few related subjects within the space of a few days, I can’t help but notice that some people who prepare program notes (I hesitate to call them legitimate annotators) copy freely from each other, usually without attribution.
Here’s a typical example. A few days ago, I finished preparing the program essay for CONCORA’s upcoming Summer Festival, which features music of Maurice Duruflé. During my research, I found some remarkably similar passages in different program notes about Duruflé’s Requiem. I’ve highlighted the passage which initially drew my attention (though much longer passages were stolen, in some cases) and included links to the full texts as well as any indication of authorship.
“The Requiem of 1947 is Duruflé’s largest and most important composition. It exists in three versions: for large orchestra, for a smaller orchestra …and the more frequently performed small-scale version, accompanied only by organ. The work is dedicated to the memory of the composer’s father and owes its origin to a commission from Duruflé’s publishers, Durand, which arrived whilst he was working on a suite of organ pieces based on plainsong themes from the Mass for the Dead. The organ sketches lent themselves admirably to expansion and transformation into a Requiem, and plainsong became the basis of the work, unifying it and inspiring it with a timelessness and contemplative spirituality that forms its essence.”UNSIGNEDhttp://users.powernet.co.uk/rex/durufleprog.pdf
“Duruflé was working on a suite of organ pieces based on plainsong from the Mass for the Dead when the commission for the Requiem arrived from his publishers, Durand. The sketches already on his desk proved themselves an ideal starting point, the plainsong becoming the basis of the whole work, unifying it and breathing into it the timelessness and meditative spirituality that are its essence.”Credited to “Andrew Senn”http://www.fpcphila.org/assets/messangerpdf/MESS-MAY-2008.pdf
“Durufle [sic] was working on a suite of organ pieces based on plainsong from the Mass for the Dead when the commission for the Requiem arrived from his publishers, Durand. The sketches already on his desk proved themselves an ideal starting point, the plainsong becoming the basis of the whole work. unifying it and breathing into it the timelessness and meditative spirituality that are its essence.”Credited as “Extract from the CD booklets of Durfle [sic] – Requiem (Hyperion CDA66757)”http://requiemonline.tripod.com/notes/durufle.htm
“In 1947, while composing an organ suite based on Gregorian themes from the “Missa de profunctis,” Duruflé received a commission from the French publishing company Durand to write a choral-orchestral Requiem Mass. The sketches already on his desk proved to be an ideal starting point, and the plainsong melodies from the “Mass of the dead” became the basis for the entire work, unifying it and breathing into it the timelessness and meditative spirituality that are its essence.”Credited to “Douglas Mears”http://www.fairfaxchoralsociety.org/pdf_and_docs/06ProgramNotesCE.pdf
“The plainsong in the Duruflé Requiem unifies the work and breathes into it the timelessness and meditative spirituality that are its essence.” [In this program, this single sentence was offered as the entire note for the Requiem.]
Coincidence? I don’t think so. And I’m still left wondering… who was it who first wrote these words about Duruflé’s Requiem? Maybe one of the people named above – maybe not. Is the original author receiving royalties for these many re-uses of his or her work? Probably not.
In this case, the copied-and-recopied passage is a pretty good one, but in some cases (as I wrote about HERE) the recycled material perpetuates errors or lazy analyses.
I discovered an even worse case of plagiarism last year while doing background research for an all-Bach program essay. On the website of one of America’s most prominent choral ensembles, I found a program note about one of the works I was studying. As I read the essay, it seemed so very familiar… finally I recalled that I had read the identical words in a book by a prominent Bach scholar that I had just read the week before. The “program annotator” had inserted, verbatim and without attribution, several paragraphs from the scholar’s book right into her essay. And she had the cheek to sign the essay as her own work and to attach a copyright statement warning others not to copy “her” work! I wrote to the executive director of the ensemble to explain the situation…the offending program note was removed from the website a few weeks later.
I find plagiarized program notes every time I do background research for my program essays. It’s theft. It’s lazy, unprofessional, and just plain wrong.
Do they think that no one will notice?