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The Golijov Problem

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About a week ago, I first read a story about a new Golijov piece that a couple of audience members believed had been plagiarized. My first thought was “No way. Golijov is a serious composer. He works with other people’s material in a kind of collage, but he wouldn’t be so silly as to blatantly rip off another composer.”

I’m beginning to sing a different tune. Especially now that I’ve heard the two pieces (which incidentally, do not sing different tunes). To demonstrate the similarities between these two compositions, I made a video with recordings I could find on the web. 1

Can this be a “-gate” now? Lots of smart people have weighed in on this already, notably Alex Ross, Anne Midgette, and Rob Deemer.

My thoughts:

The piece is most definitely a rip-off. Golijov claims he cleared it with the original composer, but the original composer didn’t get any credit in the program, and he ain’t gettin’ paid by ASCAP/BMI when the work gets performed. Also, this was a large commission. According to one report, 35 orchestras each paid between $1,500 and $4,500 to join the consortium. Even if they all paid the lower amount, Golijov would have received more to write that piece than I made teaching college courses last year. They paid for something original, not an arrangement. They got an arrangement.

I would be remiss if I did not add this one last thing: Sidereus is a piece of junk! My first reaction when I listened to the piece (before hearing the Ward-Bergeman) was to wonder if the music I was hearing was really distinctive enough to be considered a copy. It’s boring. It goes nowhere in the sub-4-minute original work, and it doesn’t go any further when Golijov spins it out (mostly through repetition) to 9 minutes.

  • Actually, Ward-Bergeman was credited for the melody in the Sidereus program notes for the Eugene Symphony performance. Some take issue with the fact that Ward-Bergeman wasn’t given credit for more than just the melody and that Golijov took was too much – no matter what permission he obtained. These are genuine issues for which opinions vary (see below) but given the facts, it does not appear that “plagiarism,” “infringement,” or “stealing,” are accurate descriptions of what happened.

    Some do not agree that Golijov did anything improper. E.g., see:

    • David MacDonald

      Well, those people are wrong. He put his name on something that wasn’t his. That’s plagiarism whether you have permission from the original creator or not. Also, Golijov was commissioned to write an original work and he returned an arrangement. I think the indignation is justified.

  • Sorry to be late to the party, but I think “plagiarism” does suggest something appropriated or taken without permission. As a non-musical person, I found your overlaying of the compositions extremely helpful. Thanks.

    • David MacDonald

      Glad you liked the video. I think you may be wrong about the definition of plagiarism, though. I’m a college professor. If one of my students copies the work of another student, it’s plagiarism. It doesn’t matter if Student A got permission from Student B. Merriam and Webster agree with me.

      We can haggle over the semantics (as a lover of words and language, I’m all too happy to do so), but the issue remains that this was work that was at best created collaboratively. One of the collaborators wasn’t credited. That’s a serious breech of artistic trust.

  • colby

    Well done. I do think you owe a debt of gratitude to Golijov for making your job easier by not even having the intelligence to change the key of his copy. I have to say this is simply unbelievable in addition to being a piece of crap fine for the accordion, but idiotic sounding in a symphony orchestra.