Bob Bernard's Corner: Cross-Cultural Appropriation

Are you trying to seduce me?

By Bob Bernard

Composers have been known to incorporate bits and pieces of works from earlier times. Puccini inserted a few bars of the tune “Mi-ya Sa-ma” in his 1904 opera Madama Butterfly, satirically introducing the character of Prince Yamadori.

This tune had a prior life in Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1885 The Mikado, it there heralding the entrance of the Mikado himself. To complete this tune’s genealogy, one must retreat still further in time to 1868 when Yajiro Shinagawa composed this tune as the first verse of the Japanese patriotic song "Toko Ton Yare Bushi".

Some composers have borrowed from themselves. Mozart used the same march tune that concluded Figaro’s first-act-ending "Non più andrai” (Figaro’s teasing Cherubino as the lad departs for military duty) again in Scene 2, Act 1 of Cosi as “Bella vita militar”, Don Alfonso’s set-up of Fiordiligi and Dorabella to think that their boyfriends are going off to war. Philip Glass used some leftover music from unused entr’acte knee plays in Einstein for Satyagraha.

Venturing into cross-cultural analysis, circumstantially there is a case for wondering if film director Mike Nichols might have been influenced by Richard Strauss’s 1911 Der Rosenkavalier for his 1967 masterpiece The Graduate. Compare, first, how these two works of art each find a young man in bed with a hot older woman:

Now, truly, I have the luck of the Lerchenaus. I knew I’d seen that exact verse ("the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls") somewhere, and – sure enough! – here they are on an appropriately-named establishment in south Torrance:

This street art, with its doubly prophetic words, stands as a physical manifestation of that long-ago motion picture.

Author: Thomas Lady

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