Musical quotation (directly quoting portions of another work in a new composition) has been a common practice throughout much of the history of music. For example, composers like Mozart frequently quoted portions of pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach, such as in his Piano Concerto No. 12. Richard Strauss quoted the funeral march from Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony No. 3 in his Metamophosen for 23 solo strings.
Musical quotation was not limited to just classical musicians. How often have you heard a folk song or even rock and roll song include a melody familiar from pieces written decades or even hundreds of years before? Some Frederic Chopin appears in “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” sung by Judy Garland in Ziegfeld Girl. In the Beatles “Because” you can hear some Ludwig van Beethoven. Even Puff Daddy’s “Hate Me Now” includes elements from a Carl Orff piece. These are just a few of many examples.
In this post I’d like to compare the musical quote that Emerson, Lake & Palmer used in their song “Knife Edge” from Leos Janacek’s Sinfonietta: I Allegretto (Fanfare). I’ll start with Leos Janacek’s music first, since he was the original composer. Notice that Janacek’s theme has very brassy characteristics, while Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s quote is performed primarily on organ with some guitar, drums, and vocals.
Leos Janacek’s Sinfonietta: I Allegretto (Fanfare) – Starts at 0 mins, then example stops at 2.1 mins
Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s “Knife Edge” – Starts at 0 mins, then example mostly stops at 2.0 mins
Which rendition did you prefer, and why?
I found the Janacek version with mostly brass instruments, played forte, to be bolder, with an expression of confidence. The main theme played by Emerson, Lake & Palmer was often droney sounding and slower, with the exception of brief wilder expressions that again slowed down to a drone. Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s clearly had the sound of the late 1960s. I preferred the Janacek since it sounded more majestic. It excited me more.
Do you have a much liked piece of music that contains a quote from an earlier composer? What is the piece, and who are the composers? Which do you prefer, and why?