Adapting or Borrowing Music by Composers

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Adapting or Borrowing Music by Composers

Music has been stolen, borrowed and adapted for centuries! Some of the

first examples of borrowing music dates back to the 13th Century and

Choral and Church music! During the 13th Century there were many types

of musicians. Apart from Monks and their plainsong style of music

there were jongleurs, troubadours, trouveres, minnesingers and

itinerant minstrels which all contributed to music of the day! Though

these secular musicians did not engage in choral activity they did

create a vocal tradition that was soon to "borrow" musical ideas from

the church as the sacred motet transmogrified into the secular


The madrigal appeared as the secular equivalent of the sacred motet in

the late thirteenth century. The madrigal writers immediately adopted

the style of having each part as an original composition rather than

use an existing melody around which other parts could be structured.

The secular words were taken from the works of esteemed poets as well

as original verse written specifically for madrigal purposes. The

quality of the words was deemed so important that they were able to

stand as poetry of merit in their own right and were sometimes

published as thus. Petrarch (1304-1374) was one of the earliest poets

to have his words used as the inspiration for madrigal setting.

This form of borrowing is seen in our set pieces too. Palastrina took

a plainsong hymn and used it in his Mass.

Another form of music borrowing is arranging! Arranging is where a

composer takes an original piece of music and adapts it to his or her

requirements. For example ‘You are the Sunshine of My Life’ was

originally a 1970’s popular piece of music. Frank Sinatra had it

adapted to Swing music so that he could put his own twist on it. Jazz

players do this as well, but taking someone else’s music is not really

composing so does that mean that people who arrange or borrow music

are not composers? Well going back in history again, Bach is one of
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