If there is one idea that gets me worked up, it’s the “inspired by” idea or the “based upon” idea.
O Brother Where Art Thou borrows incidents and characters from Homer’s Odyssey but I’d rather them not proclaim that at the top of the movie. Why? It borrows from the cache of The Odyssey without earning it.
Tell your story first and then reveal to us that you based it on The Odyssey.
Furthermore, when you tell me something is based on the Odyssey I’m going to expect a whole lot of killin’ at the end. As you may know, Odysseus killed all the suitors. After that he had the female servants, who were sexing it up with the suitors the entire time, clean up the corpses and remove all the blood before hanging them — hanging the female servants that is, not the corpses.
That part wasn’t in the movie.
What does this have to do with classical music? Every now and then we get a piece of music that is based on or inspired by another greater piece of music.
I’m thinking of two examples. One is David Lang’s Little Matchgirl Passion which is influenced by Bach’s St. Matthew's Passion and the other is An Untitled Opera based on the story of Milli Vanilli. This untitled work is a reconfiguration of Wagner’s Meistersinger.
Both these pieces have their own merits and bringing up Bach and Wagner immediately makes me start comparing them to Bach and Wagner — which isn’t fair to the new works or to Bach and Wagner.
I hope that makes sense.
*The Littlematch Girl Passion is a great piece of music in and of itself but when someone brings up Bach’s St. Matthew's Passion then I think that Bach’s music is the greater piece and it diminishes “The Littlematch Girl in my mind.
I must also admit that scale is part of the equation here. The Littlematch Girl Passion comes in at about 35-40 minutes. St. Matthew's Passion is about three hours.
Read Lang's program notes.
The same thing goes for this Milli Vanilli opera. The concept is great and the themes are relevant, I’m not a fan of the musical execution but when you bring Meistersinger into the conversation you’ve lost me completely.
An Untitled Opera Based on the Story of Milli Vanilli | David Levine | April 1, 2011
Meistersinger is a piece of music about music. The “new music” in Meistersinger is Wagner’s music. He’s writing a defense of himself and his approach. It’s as if he’s saying to his critics, “Oh, you don’t like my music? Well, here’s five hours of it and a big part of the story is about me being right and you being wrong.”
That’s a baller move.
I get the irony of Meistersinger and Milli Vanilli. It’s actually pretty funny. However, once again, Meistersinger is Meistersinger and Milli Vanilli is, well, you know. This new opera has me interested but it shoots itself in the foot by bringing up Wagner. Let it be a reworking of Meistersinger, just keep it to yourselves.
Great art wants to be itself. It often is influenced by other artists but that is for us, the audience, to figure out.