Who Can Solve This Musical Puzzle?

HaydnWhen playing a particular piece of music, playful musicians often play a game. They ask: Isn’t this theme familiar? Did the composer invent it or steal it? Can two composers dream up the same identical theme?

For example, when composing the A major violin sonata, did Brahms deliberately copy Wagner’s Prize Song from the Meistersingers? Or did Gilda in Rigoletto sing a theme from a Mozart violin sonata? Players of this game cannot sleep until they have found the answer.

Charles Small, known to readers of this blog as “Curmudgeon,” has not slept a wink since discovering that a passage in the last movement of Haydn’s string quartet opus 71 #3 bears an uncanny resemblance to the third Brandenburg concerto. (Haydn is pictured here.)

Any reader who can help Curmudgeon sleep again will be given the opportunity to contribute a guest blog to Sketches.

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10 responses to “Who Can Solve This Musical Puzzle?

  1. I suspect that our blogger-in-chief knows the answer but is simply challenging the rest of us. Surely, a successful respondent deserves more than only one guest blog, maybe as many as three?

  2. curmudgeon

    Eric, While wishing devoutly to do nothing to mute whatever thunder you may have up your sleeve on this one, I will suggest that your readers may want to have a look (and listen) at this post https://curmudgeonone.wordpress.com/ for some background.

  3. David Schatzky

    Mr. Krever points out the injustice inherent in the reward being only one guest blog. Just for pointing that out, could we hope that Mr. Koch might offer a guest blog to Mr. Krever in which he would address the question he has raised here more than once: what is justice?

  4. Michael Gundy

    There is music software available to check a “student” commits plagiarism. See https://sites.google.com/site/rewindpolimi/downloads/tools/audio-music-plagiarism-analyzer. This or a similar program could answer this question. However that would eliminate the “black art” of our quest.

    • curmudgeon

      My guess is this software would indicate plagiarism, since the motive accompanying the main theme at the indicated point (about 1’20” into the movement) is a direct note-for-note quotation of the Bach. But that doesn’t tell us whether Haydn knew the Bach and put it in there deliberately, or whether he just found a good accompanying line which happens to be identical to the Bach.

  5. Mr. Schatzky’s suggestion is tantamount to asking me to rush in where angels fear to tread. The age-old question will never be entirely satisfactorily be answered.

  6. An unsatisfactory answer from you, Horace, would be much more welcome than no answer at all, and certainly worth much more than a response from someone without your history of thoughtfulness and distinguished experience attempting to balance the scales of justice.

  7. I lack the competence for the task. My experience has been law, not philosophy. Although there is, of course, a close relationship between law and justice, they are not congruent. There are unjust laws but there cannot be unjust justice. I may not be able to define “justice” satisfactorally but, to paraphrase a famous statement about pornography, I know injustice when I see it. I have had the misfortune, though very rarely, of having to apply law that I believed is unjust, adding a precatory statement that the law should be changed legislatively.

    The problem, as I see it is that justice is an elusive concept. It means different things at different times and in different context. Hammurabi justice is our injustice. A sense of justice seems to innate. The child who says “That’s not fair. She got a bigger piece of cake than I did” is demonstrating justice in the sense of equality or fairness, both of which themselves need defining. Justice, in another context, is not depriving a person of liberty for a crime he or she did not commit. In yet another context justice requires the hearing of both sides of a dispute before deciding it, that is to say, justice is procedural. One could go on but I think that I have accomplished what I set out to do – prove my incompetence.

  8. curmudgeon

    Anent Hammurabi: I have heard the claim that “an eye for an eye…” was, in its original context, a counsel of moderation: in return for an eye, take only that which is just, viz., an eye,– not two eyes, or the whole head. Is there any truth in that interpretation?

  9. That is, indeed, a possible interpretation but my point is that, even limiting the removal of one eye, and not two, hadly accords with contemporary concepts of “justice”. Read as a whole the Code reflects a view of justice which we have long since abandoned but which probably is still found in our world, e.g., removal of one’s tongue and amputation of one’s hand.