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Jay Zario

Plagiarism or Inspiration?

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"Good composers borrow, great ones steal" - Igor Stravinsky

 Since the beginning of time people have gone to extremes to ease their job or work. Music is no exception, music has been ripped off without credit to the original composer. This can get messy, and sometimes end up in the court room. But not every rip-off is illegal or wrong, sometimes it can be a theory or idea that is borrowed, as an inspiration to the new music. Other times its an homage to the original piece. Lets jump into some cases and judge for ourselves: Plagiarism or inspiration?

 

1. Jaws (Main Title)

John Williams definitely composed a great unique theme for Jaws, but is it plagiarized? Lets have a listen.

Here is Antonín Dvořák's fourth movement of his "New World Symphony" or "Symphony No. 9", listen to the first 6 seconds.

And here is the main title to Jaws. Listen to the first minute.

They both begin with an ascending minor 2nd interval, that speeds up rapidly. But while Dvořák's spins off into something cheerful and fanfare like, Williams' Jaws keeps on building and building until that famous crescendo in a scary way.

Verdict - Inspiration

 

2. Star Wars (Main Title)

Lets face it, Star Wars is likely the greatest film score ever written, it has to be entirely Williams, right? Well lets have a look at a film titled Kings Row, a 1942 drama scored by Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

Kings Row main title. Starting four seconds in.

And of course, here is Star Wars.

Now, although Star Wars plays a little faster than Kings Row and has some percussion, as oppose to Kings Row entirely brass theme, the shape of the music is pretty much the same.

Verdict - Plagiarism

 

3. Star Wars (Imperial March)

The Imperial March is probably one of the most socially recognizable themes in history, but lets listen to Frédéric Chopin's "Funeral March".

Here is Chopin.

And here is Williams.

Although they start off similarly this is a classic example of being inspired by a great composer's perspective on a dark piece of music and using similar chord progressions to achieve that feeling.

Verdict - Inspiration

 

4. Star Wars (The Dune Sea of Tatooine)

This two note motif definitely has its roots in Ian Stravinsky's "The Right of Spring". It seems only fitting that the one he who inclines that plagiarism isn't all that bad - gets ripped off himself. Lets have a listen.

And here's track 4 from the Star Wars OST.

What likely happened here, in my opinion, is that the Rite of Spring was in the temp score for Star Wars, When Williams heard this he obviously felt that it fit well in the score. I don't think there is any denying that its the same two alternating notes in both pieces.

Verdict - Plagiarism

 

5. Batman (Main Title)

Lets take a listen to Bernard Herrmann's theme for "Journey to the Center of the Earth".

And Danny Elfman's theme for the 1989 movie "Batman".

Yep, that's pretty much the same motif (except for Hermmann's last note).

Verdict - plagiarism

 

6. Star Wars (The Battle of Yavin)

In Gustav Holst's "The Planets" suite, he uses a rhythmic repetition of one chord. Lets take a listen.

This probably sounds familiar to anyone who watched Star Wars, take a listen to the main title of Star Wars, about half way through.

And again towards the end of "The Battle of Yavin".

To be fair to Holst, there are definitely some similarities between all three pieces, However to call repeating a note multiple times plagiarism would be incorrect. Also Holst uses many variations on that rhythmic repeating note, none of which Williams uses exactly like.

Verdict - Inspiration

 

7.The Nightmare Before Christmas (This is Halloween)

Next up we have another Burton - Elfman collaboration, 1993's animated musical  "The Nightmare Before Christmas". But first we need to take a listen to a snippet from the original theme for the 1954 Japanese film Godzilla, written by Akira Ifukube.

And now Elfman's "This is Halloween".

I couldn't find anyone comparing these two pieces of music, but they are really similar. I think the effect of changing time signatures from 4/4 to 5/4 was an effective device Elfman borrowed from Godzilla. They also both use two consecutive descending second intervals each an eighth note, here are the notes for Godzilla.

Godzilla.PNG

And here is "This is Halloween"

This is halloween.PNG

Verdict - Plagiarism

 

8. Batman (Waltz to the Death)

The main theme for the Joker in 1989's "Batman" is very unique because the music is part of the character's persona as oppose to other themes that simply reflect the character. This waltz clearly has roots in Koji Kondo's iconic music for the original Super Mario Bros arcade game released in 1985. First we will listen to the original 8-bit version.

But in order to compare this properly we must listen to a version done by the Boston Pops Orchestra.

And here is "Waltz to the Death" by Danny Elfman.

The first few seconds are extremely similar, I slowed down "Waltz to the Death" a little and combined the two, take a listen.

Waltz of the Underwater.mp3

 

However I am not sure if this intro is part of the theme or the way the Boston Pops changed keys, that being said the rest of the two themes are too similar to be coincidental.

Verdict - Plagiarism

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This is a good thread topic even though it may be an oft-repeated one.

 

I for one think the issue of Williams's creativity is largely misunderstood. All the best music throughout time tends to be based on craft and not invention. But is Williams a major creative contributor? He has a knack for taking a lot of best ideas from past composers (albeit sometimes subconsciously) and making something much more cohesive and listenable. This is the very philosophy that music doesn't need to be composed with notes, as in previous note-combinations discovered by people, but that music can now be composed using a palette of whole ideas previously discovered by people, a palette to invent a new sound and craft, with Williams this is often achieved by a rather lofty and light type of passion, packed full of timeless themes written more effectively for this genre, a real sense of movement and rhythm, a sensitive imagination and appreciation for how music always makes us feel during a story. I think this is becoming more and more true, when a composer like Williams has a difficult-to-mimick ability to string old ideas into something so effective in both catchiness and telling a story, it can be said that he is a true innovator. He's able to 'classicize' these newer concepts, no longer inventing standalone concepts like previous composers, but inventing a new way of how to put these concepts together more beautifully and lastingly.

 

This all comes down to the final aim--creating an aesthetic that is more big-picture and complete. Some might say this can only be achieved within Classical structure. Most composers however, aren't to embrace this perfection in music, but embrace expansion. Expansion gets the feelers and imagination fired up, while composing 'perfect' music is a tedious, pain-staking task. But as I said, all the best composers throughout time were crafters. They painstakingly aimed for this higher aesthetic.

 

It seems, those who take the comparative approach will critique Williams for not being original, while those who take a personal approach listening without bias might really enjoy his music and orchestration as achieving a kind of thematic program perfection, sounding better than his direct influences, having substance and a special emotionality to it that is much more weightless and intangible. Individuals, if they choose, can step back from the notion that more obvious areas within a work need to evolve, as Williams evolved his music in many subtler ways like Mozart did with classical. No one was saying Mozart's greatness was about threading together a new era and interpretation, he moreso was about writing epic classical music and amazing melodies of which the foundation was already there. Williams in the same fashion wrote the most catchy themes for film in the past century, sometimes with great style developing out lesser composers' themes. Being a composer is also altogether not necessarily about originality. In Stravinsky's famous words about great composers stealing, valid composition can be about combining different ideas to give great reformation to a school of thought. Williams didn't attempt to stab at Korngold or his contemporaries--instead he took lots of influences of contemporary film and revisited older composer philosophies, like Mahler did with Wagner. It seems there are different interpretations to what people desire from new composers, originality or improving on what's there? Being a good composer can simply be about writing good music hands down, in a new combination. Williams made some upgrades in the quality of his musical approach and orchestration from his direct contemporary influences, so if a composer's quality is about simply great-sounding music, he might fit that bill also.

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2 hours ago, Borodin said:

while those who take a personal approach listening without bias might really enjoy his music and orchestration as achieving a kind of thematic program perfection, sounding better than his direct influences, having substance and a special emotionality to it that is much more weightless and intangible

 

You are having the bias here. Nothing against people enjoying film composer stuff more than classical masters of different musical eras, but a statement like this more reflection of ignorance and the inability to deal with classical forms. 

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What do you mean by classical forms in direct influence to Williams's film music? Examples?

 

Despite many Classical fans saying it was the greatest era for composition, I also think this is a matter of opinion. Great composers don't stop being born, but according to Classicists they're all born within a century of each other. Just doesn't ring a bell in my experience. Machaut of the 14th century and J.S. Bach of the 17th century began something monumental in music, but then comes the 20th century and music has evolved in other ways to a broader, more holistic orchestral scope that can't be limited by classical theory and form, nor understood by classical composers. In fact it is right to say Haydn or Mozart probably didn't know as much about music as we'd like to think, despite them writing some of the best pieces. They were limited to their genres and didn't know much about the deeply creative theoretical and mathematical processes of the 14th and 15th centuries. The very purpose of Haydn and Mozart's music would utterly fail to meet earlier standards, and if you were to interpret each century with its correct lens, you would have a very different opinion on classical music. Interpreting everything through a classical lens you fail to hear the intended purpose of other music. It's not enough to say that Classical achieves the best purpose, because it is simply a small-group opinion, one I never say to necessarily disagree with as it is a valueable perspective. Though there is nothing wrong with saying composing a futuristic palette of scapes for a space opera, or a timbric swirling suite for a modern adventure, is not the best purpose in music, nor is it to say something with a sick melody and beat that's easy to dance to. All these varying usages of music evolve with the times, and if you have no use for music A over B, it suffices to say music A is not a requirement of any sort. Debussy knew this the best out of all the major composers, who dubbed Chopin as the greatest composer, from reimagining a whole new interpretation to music's purpose. Debussy was more an unparalleled inventor than any German composer ever was, and also the greatest influence to film music. It's no wonder pieces from his favorite composer sound so effective for film:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHfQCfUTlXE/

 

7 hours ago, publicist said:

Nothing against people enjoying film composer stuff more than classical masters of different musical eras, but a statement like this more reflection of ignorance and the inability to deal with classical forms. 

 

The latter doesn't quite match the former. I think you meant "There's something wrong with people enjoying film composer stuff more than classical masters of different musical eras" and not "I have nothing against it" ?

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4 hours ago, publicist said:

 

You are having the bias here. Nothing against people enjoying film composer stuff more than classical masters of different musical eras, but a statement like this more reflection of ignorance and the inability to deal with classical forms. 

 

Well said.

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5 hours ago, Borodin said:

The latter doesn't quite match the former. I think you meant "There's something wrong with people enjoying film composer stuff more than classical masters of different musical eras" and not "I have nothing against it" ?

 

I think you got the gist of it.

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And that would make sense if there were a unified measure of quality for a single species, one that isn't limited by presumptive generalizing, but fortunately we each have psychic strands of esotericism (speciation, diversification, superior discoveries of certain qualia than others)--some extreme like the case with Debussy, the more creative the vision the more diversified the selectiveness of one's carnal adornments. Hence this continual revision of mechanical expectations is the only change that keeps matter, our existence, in motion. There will never in a million years be agreement, because there is no objective or aim to evolution and its particular memes and offshoots. Even classical music, it will be forgotten long after there's an objective reason for it to be--the subjective, transient reasons will prevail as they always have, and humanity cannot or ever will exist as a single state of realization.

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4 hours ago, Borodin said:

And that would make sense if there were a unified measure of quality for a single species, one that isn't limited by presumptive generalizing, but fortunately we each have psychic strands of esotericism (speciation, diversification, superior discoveries of certain qualia than others)--some extreme like the case with Debussy, the more creative the vision the more diversified the selectiveness of one's carnal adornments. Hence this continual revision of mechanical expectations is the only change that keeps matter, our existence, in motion. There will never in a million years be agreement, because there is no objective or aim to evolution and its particular memes and offshoots. Even classical music, it will be forgotten long after there's an objective reason for it to be--the subjective, transient reasons will prevail as they always have, and humanity cannot or ever will exist as a single state of realization.

 

That's probably why many current composers - like Williams himself - often state how they are still awed by Bach (fill in your preferred choice) and don't think his clarity could ever be surpassed. It's only film music fans that always claim that new=better. Bollocks, i say. It's just because you're so hooked to movies and their music as a by-product.

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On 10/24/2019 at 11:30 AM, publicist said:

That's probably why many current composers - like Williams himself - often state how they are still awed by Bach (fill in your preferred choice) and don't think his clarity could ever be surpassed. It's only film music fans that always claim that new=better. Bollocks, i say. It's just because you're so hooked to movies and their music as a by-product.

 

And whether Bach, in the arts, can be surpassed, oft has no bearing on whether x composer could also be surpassed with their own newly-evolved archetypes. It is only the case that Bach has been a foundational progress point, and yet with many others, diversification does not cleave to these historical passages. Your understanding on this is backwards. The information that real composers understand the best composers by universal principle, while works only retroactively by principle, isn't well-informed to how cultural evolution has always worked, and is the exact opposite phenomenon of what is happening, with just as many famous musicians not just fans, like the classic example of Chopin not even nearing an end-all be-all expert to Debussy. Perhaps it's the case that some populations are so hooked on movies, like in your example, and this interpretation is the esoteric leap for a new cultural refining of knowledge via visual arts. Probably not so simple and one-dimensional. Williams however (whether he prefers Bach to his own musical imaginings) doesn't need to be the expert in any regard. The phenomenon of interpretive diversification via only one example, "Williams and his contemporaries' successful experiments" suffice to say, will happen in either a small or large way with no one correct visionary founder or direction. It happens regardless, in new derivatives of populations where one of these offshoot and cut the other interpretations off, and will and has, by a matter of time and environment, certainly happen. People rigidly clenching on to old traditions to only have them unbarred away, is only what we observe throughout time. What you'd like to happen in musical theory, is never going to happen, in fact, it is progressively doing the opposite. You have individual opinions with no finalized criterion applying to these selections of populations, because there is no set desire and destination for the human species at this very time, nor does there need to be.

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Firstly, not sure why this thread is being bumped about our discussion, when it's settled.

 

Secondly, people attempting to pigeonhole some sense of universality into their cookie-cutter fantasy ethnology, makes them logically lose an argument. Not I. You can't avoid the unavoidable, scientific fact of permanent human evolutionary non-standard. This entropy is the very scientific basis of why you can get up in the morning, breathe and enjoy music, despite your memory cells soon terminating. Whether you want to standardize ethnology, via auditory theory (such as music), has no bearing on you being ignorant to basic biology.

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