Talk of recycling or repurposing often includes tires, newspapers, pallets, books (shudder!), cooking oil and plastic bottles. What does that have to do with music? Of all man-made things, music is surely towards the top of the list of things that have been recycled. A few notes, a phrase, a theme or entire song may show up again and again, sometimes with but more often without acknowledgment of the source. This recycling did not begin with the internet. It has likely been around as long as there has been music.
In 1872, French composer Georges Bizet wrote music for a play called “L’Arlesienne.” The songs served the general purpose as a film score does today, and were written for chorus and small orchestra. Some of the tunes were original, but some were recycled from folk music. Neither the music score nor the play were well-received. Bizet recycled some of the music into an orchestral suite of four movements, which came to be known as “L’Arlesienne Suite No.1.” From this suite came the song “March of the Kings,” a theme Bizet himself recycled from history.
After Bizet’s death, Ernest Guiraud arranged and published “L’Arlesienne Suite No. 2,” recycling more of Bizet’s themes, some but not all from “L’Arlesienne.” The recycling continued when sometime later, Guiraud took the second movement (Intermezzo), added the sacred Latin text of Agnus Dei to it, and published the song independent of the suite.
The following video features a 1913 audio recording of Enrico Caruso. While I prefer the full orchestral version to the piano and sparse instrumentation used in this recording, having the piano score as part of the video as well as Caruso’s historic interpretation is wonderful.