Top Five Musical Recyclers

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Gabriel Prokofiev’s new release, Import/Export: A Suite for Global Junk, is a series of pieces written for discarded items, including oil cans, plastic bags and Fanta bottles. These mundane objects are recycling and reimagined -- with the help of British percussionist Powerplant -- into part of Prokofiev’s artistic vision.

This is just a piece of a continuum what composers have been doing from years -- taking musical detritus and folding it into their own work. Here are the Top 5 @ 105 recyclers.

1. Franz Liszt became famous performing his piano transcriptions of popular orchestral works with his virtuousic flair. He set works as diverse as Berloiz’s Symphonie Fantastique to Bach fugues, and bel canto operas for the piano, tweaking them for dramatic effect. Some criticised him for taking liberties with his source material, others like Wagner drew inspiration from the way Liszt would restructure harmony and insert dissonance.

2. Giacomo Rossini made a fortune churning out operas across Italy. Some were so successful, that he would appropriate arias, overtures or chorus from previous works and insert them into a new one. The famous Barber of Seville overture kicked off at least three of his other operas. Audiences from town to town rarely recognized the music from a previous work, so Rossini would often employ this time-saving device when trying to compose a two-act work in two weeks.

3. Brahms, Dvorak and Stravinsky all wove folk and traditional melodies into their music, but Bela Bartok took this practice to a new level. He and fellow Hungarian Zoltan Kodaly, both composers and ethnomusicologists, spent years traveling across the countryside in search of traditional songs. Bartok incorporated their irregular rhythms and pentatonic scales in an entirely new way.

4. The half-German half-Italian, Ferruccio Busoni was one of the originators of the neoclassical movement at the turn of the 20th century, remodeling older masterpieces. Other composers, notably Stravinsky in his Pulcinella Suite, continued this tradition. However, Busoni’s received as many admirers as critics. Harold Schonberg wrote in The Lives of the Great Composers, “Busoni ... never seems to have forgotten a note he ever heard, nor could he entirely shake himself free from the themes and ideas of other composers.”

5. The son of a bandmaster, Charles Ives extensively quotes from his New England upbringing in his music, though it is colored with his singular dissonant idiom. College fight songs, hymns, “America,” ragtime dances and “Camptown Races” all emerge through the complex scores of his compositions. James B. Sinclair painstakingly documented each allusion in A Descriptive Catalogue of the Music of Charles Ives.

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