Sunday, September 07, 2008

Seeing Red

While going through the YouTube links for medieval music that I use for teaching, I noticed that two performances from the Carmina Burana had been removed by Schott due to copyright violation. Is it possible that the long arm of musical copyright law has extended back into the days before the use of the musical staff? This is something I just don't understand. Karl Orff only translated and used a small amount of the famous (and important) "Red Book" in his popular work, which, thanks to beer ads and the like, has made Schott a lot of money. But how is it possible, by extension, for Schott to own performing rights for the whole book--even the stuff that Orff didn't use?

The Carmina Burana, as I understand it, served as a kind of musical "Rosetta Stone." Because its songs had catchy tunes and had spicy subject matter (sex and drinking among them), the songs in the book remained a part of popular culture for centuries. The melodies in the Red Book (not to be confused with the Libre Vermell, another red book filled with great music) were indicated in neumes--little squiggles used in sacred music that only those in the know could read, and by the time staff notation evolved, most of those in the know were long dead.

There were people who knew the tunes in the Carmina Burana, though, so it became possible to decode some mystery melodies of sacred music through the use of neumes in the Carmina Burana. I love the idea that access to "sacred" music (the quotes are there because I believe there is a lot of music that is not religious that is sacred) can come by way of knowledge gained from "profane" music.

It doesn't make sense for Schott to remove some of the wonderful performances of songs from the non-Orff Carmina Burana from YouTube. The people posting those performances only did so in order to share something exciting, and to give people a lively look and listen to the great and enduring melodies that were preserved and passed through the ages. The were given to us in a book that was in the public domain a very long time before the public domain was even invented.


Eric Edberg said...

Well, Elaine, I imagine someone from Schott just went on a web search and sent threatening messages to the poster of anything Carminia Burana. Probably didn't bother to look to see what was Orff and what wasn't (and possibly didn't even know the difference).

A third-party site like YouTube takes things down quite quickly when sent notice of a copyright violation and doesn't bother to verify the accuracy. And for individuals, well, if I got a cease-and-desist letter threatening a lawsuit, I'd have to be in a pretty strong-willed mood to resist, and would prefer to have funds for a lawyer on hand before getting into a fight with the Schott legal team.

It takes time, energy,and money to fight a big bully.

Elaine Fine said...


T. said...

Double sigh...but I LOVE this post. Thank you!