Who owns musical licks?

September 6, 2008


There is this unfair phenomenon that exists for us 21st century composers. There are certain stylistic gestures and textures that are ultimately attributed to a single composer. For instance: anyone who tries to orchestrate an American folk tune for orchestra will automatically be accused of sounding like Aaron Copland. Aggressive modal or atonal writing for strings, especially with double, triple and quadruple stop action, ends up sounding “like Bartok.” Slow and long glissandi sound like Xenakis. Philip Glass has created an overflowing toolbox of accompanimental licks for future composers — that is, composers who are not afraid of people saying “YOUR music sounds like Philip Glass.”

Pop music is filled with musical chunks written by the famous and the unknown––cool little musical licks that everyone shares. Most songwriters have no problem using these [unoriginal] ideas as their own songs as they are really part of our musical language.

Post-Webernian serialists have had an unspoken prerequisite that all music MUST be completely original. So silly.

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