"Originality is nothing but judicious imitation." - Voltaire

"Originality is undetected plagiarism." - William Ralph Inge

In the 20th century, the legal protection of copyright became big business, particularly in zealously-litigious Anglo-Saxon societies, fond of words such as plagiarism, infringement and paternity. Ironically, lawyers defending cases of plagiarism often show that offending passages can be found in existing out-of-copyright ("public domain") works, and are therefore not that original anyway. Ethics aside, melodies and harmonies that touch the human heart have been around since there were hearts to touch. There’s a reason why clichés become clichés.

In 1791, W.A. Mozart would not have died in poverty had he received some payment every time his works were performed; whereas nowadays, technically, we commit copyright infringement by singing Happy Birthday without acknowledging Hill/Hill, registering the performance and paying royalties.

     ...melodies and harmonies that touch the human heart have been around since there were hearts to touch

Before the "information age", aural tradition and memorisation were how a great deal of material, musical or otherwise, was spread and passed down through generations.

Along with their stock of compulsory chorale tunes and "standard" affects, composers would also adapt or borrow directly from the works of others and think nothing of putting their own name to the "new" piece. A particularly cheeky example of this would be Moravian composer PJ Vejvanovsky. Research has shown that many of "his" works, which appeared in the library where he worked in later life, were simply copied directly from other composers, including one that was written when he was just three years old.

Composers would also "recycle" their own material. J.S. Bach arranged pieces by Vivaldi and rearranged several of his own works for different settings or occasions. Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan, for instance, received many treatments and the B-Minor Mass (BWV 232) is mostly compiled of modified movements from his cantatas. You may recognise one of those today in BWV12, performed first in Weimar and again in Leipzig. There was a difference in performing pitch between these two towns (Chorton and Kammerton - "high" and "low" respectively- a difference of a whole tone) and without allowing for this, BWV12 is, to quote Piet Dhont, "extremely uncomfortable" to play to on a Baroque oboe.

Because we’re playing the Leipzig setting, Piet and "Super" Mario Topper have lovingly transposed the parts (which Bach did to other re-performed cantatas) to their original sounding pitch (from F dorian/Bb to G dorian/C), giving the oboe a more characteristic part. In Weimar, the new-fangled, "French" oboe, pitched in Kammerton, would have been played in this key anyway.

Much in the same way that G.F. Handel’s Concerti for Organ (Opus 4) were re-written versions of his earlier instrumental sonatas, Oliver Webber’s arrangement of Concerto for Three Harpsichords (BWV1064) for three solo violins (and ripieno) is a natural and historic adaptation of a piece that may even have been conceived for this combination in the first place and then lost. Other such reconstructions have been made but this is the one we prefer; and in our "Premieres" season, it was another chance to work with a living writer, who just happens to be one of our favourite musicians.

Mike Diprose
April 2010


Chr. Graupner
Ouverture in g, GWV 471

J.S. Bach
Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, BWV 12

J.S. Bach/Oliver Webber
Concerto voor 3 "Clavecimbels", BWV 1064, arranged for 3 violins, strings & continuo

J.S. Bach
Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt, BWV 112

Sat 24th & Sun 25th April 2010

Woudsend,& Amsterdam


Chorton and Kammerton were not as fixed as might be inferred from this article. Generally, the player of an organ at Chorton would transpose a whole tone downwards into Kammerton but the transposition required could vary between a semitone and a perfect fourth. String players would also re-tune their instruments up or down. This raises the matter of key “characters”, which could be more symbolic than absolute, but that’s another discussion. Many woodwind instruments in the early 18th century were at “French” pitch (ton de chambre, or Tief-Kammerton), approximately a semitone below Kammerton.

 An elegant solution to BWV12 would be the strings re-tuning a semitone lower, thus maintaining the “character” of F minor (the symbolic four fa-s reflecting the opening text); the oboes at Tief Kammerton playing in G minor; and the organist transposing a minor third down into in E minor. A similar solution would have been used for the Bewerbungskantaten (BWV 22 and 23) and the first setting of the Magnificat (BWV243a), thus avoiding Db major on the organ (playing in C instead) and negating the need for new, shorter trumpets to be built especially for one piece at a pitch otherwise unused in Leipzig during JS Bach’s life. I think Bruce Haynes covers this in “The Story of A”.

As is often the case, or an excuse: because this piece was part of a bigger program that we played at “normal” (modern) Kammerton of a’=415, we transposed the string parts.

MD 2017