Whatever Happened to Creative Homage?

One evening last week, while tuning in to American Public Media’s Performance Today show, I happened to catch Luigi Boccherini’s Symphony in d minor, Op. 12 No. 4, nicknamed La Casa Del Diavolo or The House of the Devil. As a flutist, of course, I’m familiar with Boccherini’s great output including his Flute Concerto in D, his trio sonatas with flute and his numerous flute quartets and quintets. I admire his cello concerti and guitar quintets — the Fandango comes happily to mind.

However, upon my first-ever hearing of La Casa Del Diavolo last week, I was truly incensed. It wasn’t the ominous name that bothered me, but the outright plagiarism of the allegro finale. It was obvious to me that Boccherini had stolen it, practically note-for-note, from Gluck’s opera, Orpheus and Eurydice. Now, Gluck is downright monumental among us flutists, having composed one of the most sublimely beautiful flute solos ever written in his opera scene, Dance of the Blessed Spirits. He precedes that blissful flute solo with pure chaos via his Dance of the Furies, making the flute solo that follows even more sublime.

So, I got online and did some research. I discovered that in Gluck’s and Boccherini’s time (the mid-to-late 18th century), imitation was common practice. The act of plagiarism was considered a sign of respect and, in fact, a way to pay creative homage to an artist one admired or looked up to.

Who knew?

I wonder when these sentiments changed. Just now, I conducted a search on the words “intellectual property.” Google instantly returned 1.8 million results. Perhaps we’ve gone too far in protecting each and every one of our thoughts, theories, ideas and inventions. Perhaps we’d all be more creative and productive if we weren’t so protective — if we freely shared and reused each others’ ideas as a matter of course.

What do you think?

by Rebecca Cochran

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