Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

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Earth Day is this Friday. The idea has come a long way in the four decades since it was first observed, but it seems to me that one of the most obvious consequences of Earth Day must be New York City’s recycling laws, which have us all sorting the paper from the glass, and the glass from the plastic (and the plastic from the plastic--nothing is easy).

It’s become a habit, and when I go out of town on vacation to places where recycling isn’t a local custom, I find myself a little disgusted at the thought of just throwing all that stuff away. It can’t all be useless, can it? “Reduce, Reuse, Recyle” is an ecological mantra now, but it’s something composers have always done. 

Bach and Handel recycled melodies, sometimes more than once. Elgar kept his compositional scraps from boyhood, and turned them into the Wand of Youth suites. Gounod re-used a Bach prelude and made a world-famous setting of “Ave Maria.” Mahler reduced his first symphony by an entire movement, and that discarded movement stands alone now as Blumine, a concert piece. There was wonderful crossover musical recycling done in the 20th century, too, by composers who turned a Chopin theme into “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” or the melody from Ravel’s Pavane into “The Lamp is Low.” 

What’s your favorite example of musical recycling? Let us know, and we might re-use your ideas for our programming this week.

CORRECTION: Earth Day is Thursday.