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Updated: Apr 10

On ‘plagiarism’ in the guitar repertoire of the 19th century

In contrast to our era, where copyright is regulated by thousands of extremely complex laws, the content of this blog will bring us back to a time where the use of musical material by another composer was not seen as ‘plagiarism’ but more as a tribute and act of deference towards them. ‘How’ was more important than ‘What’, the development of a musical idea was more meaningful than the idea itself which inspired that intellectual process.

In this blog, we will explore some amazing ‘plagiarisms’ which can be found in the guitar repertoire of the 19th century (with only one amazing exception). The purpose is not only to give entertaining information but also to open a door to a more informed contextualization of our repertoire from this period. Indeed, I am sure that by analyzing the phrasing and articulation of the quoted passages, we can certainly achieve a more convincing performance, viewing them in the performance practice of that time.

There is no doubt that W.A. Mozart is one of the most inspiring composers of all time. In the first half of the 19th century his influence in Vienna was still extremely strong and his penultimate opera, Die Zauberflöte (abbreviated here to ZF), still enjoyed an almost legendary status among musicians and audience as well. Therefore, it will not surprise that many of his popular melodies have been quoted by musicians at that time. M. Giuliani was the foremost active guitarist in Vienna in that period and couldn’t possibly elude being inspired by Mozart. Here some examples.

· M.Giuliani: Sonata op.15, 1st movement:

AUDIO: (from 02:13)

· W.A.Mozart: String Quartet in G major, K.387, 4th movement, 1782:

AUDIO: (from 07:00, same tonality)

From the same work:

· M.Giuliani: Sonata op.15, 2nd movement:

AUDIO: (from 01:01)

· W.A.Mozart: the ZF, Sarastros’s Aria n.15 “In diesen heil'gen Hallen kennt man die Rache nicht!”, 1791:

AUDIO: (from 00:32)

The shape of the melody and accompaniments coincide too closely with Mozart’s. There is no doubt that Giuliani used them consciously, as a tribute to the great Maestro.

By the way, in order to avoid thinking that only other composers borrow ideas by Mozart you can observe that in the Fugue from the Ouverture to the ZF he ‘stole’ a theme by M.Clementi:

· M.Clementi: Sonata in B flat major no.2 op.24, 1st movement, composed 1781:


· W.A.Mozart: the ZF, Ouverture (Fugue), 1791:

AUDIO: (from 01:13)

Clementi played this Sonata in 1781 in Vienna during a piano contest vs Mozart before an audience that included Joseph II. The emperor diplomatically declared a tie.

Knowing from some letters to his father Leopold how little Mozart thought of Clementi (who on the contrary always praised Mozart’s playing and compositions), I cannot get out of my head the nasty thought that he wanted to show him how much better that easy theme could have been treated (for those who saw the movie “Amadeus”, remember the scene where Mozart improvised on the Welcome-March written by Salieri in front of Salieri...)

Also the Spanish composer D.Aguado quotes the ZF quite explicitly in the very beginning of his most famous work:

· D.Aguado: Rondo Brillant no.2 op.2, Rondo, 1827:

AUDIO: (sorry, a personal contribution to the audio material)

· W.A.Mozart: the ZF, 1st Scene, Introduction, Tamino, “Zur Hilfe, zur Hilfe, sonst bin ich verloren”, 1791:

(The score only tenor and bass)

AUDIO: (from 00:25)

Speaking of the same work, the theme of the Rondo is basically a literal quotation of the theme from the 3rd movement (also a Rondo) of the Sonata no.8 op.13 (Pathetique) by L. van Beethoven:

· D.Aguado: Rondo no.2 op.2, 1827:

AUDIO: (from 03:03)

· L. van BEETHOVEN: Sonata no.8 op.13, 3rd movement, 1798:


For me, a clear tribute to the 2 great Wiener Masters.

Even if he was not living in Vienna, another great guitarist of this generation couldn’t possibly escape the influence of Mozart and particularly of the ZF. I am speaking of Fernando Sor.

Mozart has always been his beloved model. He transcribed 6 pieces from the ZF and his most famous work, rightly or not, are the Variations on a Theme form the ZF op.9. But maybe not all of you noticed that in this piece, at the beginning of the Introduction, there is another gigantic quotation from the ZF:

· F.Sor: Variations op.9, Introduction, 1821:


· W.A.Mozart: die ZF, 28 scene, 1791:


The Introduction quotes the most serious and musically complex moment of the opera and the varied theme contains the most hilarious moment of it. Very refined.

During Giuliani’s lifetime, Vienna hosted an incredible number of immense composers. Schubert was one of them. The following example is really interesting as Giuliani’s piece was written 11 years before Schubert’s one:

· M.Giuliani: Sonatina no.2 op.7, Allegretto con brio, 1816:

AUDIO: (I could find only this recording)

· F.Schubert: from “3 Klavierstücke” D.946, no.1, 1827:

AUDIO: (from 00:10)

Even if the harmonies do not always match, the melody and the dynamic (the crescendo’s) are exactly the same.

We can suppose that Schubert, living in Vienna, knew Giuliani and that he might have heard Giuliani in a concert (or privately), perform his 2nd Sonatina op.71. We can also suppose that Schubert had remembered 11 years later that lovely theme from the Allegretto and used it in his 1st Klavierstück. Quite improbable, but still possible. Nevertheless, the next example evades even the most imaginative hypothesis.

· F.Corbetta (1615-1681): “Allemande grave, Tombeau de Mr. Franc.que”, from “Varii scherzi di sonate per la chitarra spagnuola”, Bruxelles 1648:


· L.van Beethoven: Marcia Funebre, from Symphomy no.3 op.55 “Eroica”, Marcia Funebre, 1803:


I can’t possibly think that Beethoven knew the music of this Italian composer, nor even his name. Even nowadays, in the time of Google it is difficult to acquire scores of this maestro and it seems that studying his music is only a matter for specialists. So, how could this happen? Both pieces belong to the Tombeau forms, both in the tonality of c minor, same shape of the melody, same rhythm (considering that the performance ‘inegale’ of the French style makes the sequence of 8th note very similar to the dotted figures of Beethoven’s Marcia Funebre). This, for me, is just inexplicable...

My harmony teacher used to say that because of the limited number of notes: twelve, and due to the relatively small number of possible combinations of them in a tonal harmony, it is unavoidable that some composers happen to quote works of their colleagues. Yet, this example somehow goes really too far. I don’t know if I should hope for a musicological solution to this mystery to emerge one day, or that it should remain a mysterious, almost divine coincidence.

Dear friend, thank you so much for your attention, if you have any thoughts to share with our community, please do so in the comment section below. Your comment will contribute to the richness of the discussion and will contribute to our community. Thank you very much in advance!!!!


Carlo Marchione


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