Quoting portions of earlier music – A comparison

music photo

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?





10 thoughts on “Quoting portions of earlier music – A comparison

  1. gregoryjosephs June 2, 2017 / 4:05 pm

    I adore the Celine Dion version of the Eric Carmen song “All By Myself.” The whole track quotes/is borrowed from Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor. I think I like it better because I knew it before I knew the Rachmaninoff piece.

    I recently heard ‘Someone To Call My Lover’ by Janet Jackson. It’s an old song already, but the chorus quotes Erik Satie, and I haven’t decided how I feel about that yet. I adore Satie, and it seems a little like sacrilege, but I’m maintaining an open mind. It goes without saying I’ll *always* prefer Satie to Janet.

    Lastly. . . look, you really got me going today. . . Have you heard of the Tori Amos album ‘Night of Hunters?’ It came out in 2011 or 2012. It’s a song cycle with full orchestra where every track is based upon a piece of classical music. Absolutely beautiful. Again, I’m not sure if I can choose between Amos’ interpretations and the originals because each offer different perspectives. I’d highly recommend it if this is something that interests you.

    Great post, as usual!

    Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight June 2, 2017 / 4:20 pm

      Thanks so much for sharing about these musical pieces/songs, Gregory! I will start by comparing Satie and Janet Jackson’s interpretations.

      I believe I heard Emerson, Lake & Palmer before Janacek’s piece. I always liked EL&Ps song, but I am now a huge fan of Janacek.

      Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight June 2, 2017 / 4:26 pm

      I just compared Janet Jackson’s interpretation to Satie’s music. I’m not a big pop music fan so I obviously preferred Satie. I am familiar with Satie’s piece, though the version I heard online was played a little too slow for my taste.

      Liked by 1 person

      • gregoryjosephs June 2, 2017 / 4:29 pm

        Yes. It’s gymnopedie no 1. I prefer it a bit faster than many people play it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • updownflight June 2, 2017 / 4:31 pm

        Yes, agreed. Of course not too fast, but the interpretation I heard on line was really dragging. Though I prefer the Satie, I’d probably listen to Janet for the upbeat music rather than falling asleep to the interpretation of the Satie piece I heard.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I wish I could have posted this in About but I didn’t see a comment section. Cindy we have a lot in common. I originally was a Jersey girl, born in Newark and lived in Sussex County. My father was bipolar so I realize how life challenging that can be. I was always fearful I would inherit that gene but I believe, praise God, I didn’t. Health, cooking, travel, birds and other animals ( I grew up on a farm) are my interests as well. And of course the Lord is my Joy. Happiness is fleeting but Joy is anchored to the soul, no matter what happens in life. Just had to follow to see what else you post, 🙂 Thanks for finding me too. Blessings back,

    Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight June 2, 2017 / 5:51 pm

      Hello Ellie. Thanks for sharing. It’s nice to meet someone who has an appreciation for so many of the same things.

      I’m sorry your dad had to struggle at times with bipolar disorder. I’m glad that you were spared. I know that those who witness mental illness in a loved one gain strength in many ways, too. I can certainly say I have so much appreciation for my family and friends that have supported me all of these years. I have been blessed with them.

      Perhaps I’ll consider adding the comments feature to my “About”.

      Liked by 1 person

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