Milton Moore: The greats were classic recyclers

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My mom grew up the The Depression, and a common phrase in her household was "Use up, make do, wear out." Back in the days before recordings (that is to say, for most of human music-making), musicians and composers used to recycle freely. And the music they were recycling often wasn't their own.

The playlist you will find below is a sampling of some music of great recyclers.

Handel and Rossini were notorious recyclers of their own music. Rossini, in particular, would lift arias from one opera to use in the next, correctly assuming that the audience in Verona hadn't heard his last opera in Milan. Beethoven loved one theme so much, his Variations and Fugue for Piano in E Flat, that he used large chunks of that piano piece four times, including in his "Creatures of Prometheus" and as the entire final movement of his epic "Eroica" Symphony.

But one of the more startling recycling jobs appears in the finale movement of Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony, one of the most renowned movements in all symphonies. In this finale,Mozart combines five different themes in sonata form and then, in a masterstroke few have ever matched, lets all five of them play at once in the breath-taking coda. (It begins with the fugal passage at 10:23 of the track below.)

The Mozart movement starts with a simple four-note phrase, one he had used numerous times before and one that dates from centuries before. But oddly enough, Haydn had a very similar approach in tempo and spirit to this same four-note theme in the finale of his Symphony No. 13 in D Major, written 15 years earlier.

Schubert was quite a recycler. He wrote more than 600 songs, so he often dipped into his songbook for larger works. His String Quartet in D Minor is called "The Death and the Maiden Quartet" because he set the tune from his song of that name for the second movement. Schubert's "Trout" Quintet got its name from the composer's setting of variations from his song "The Trout" for its final movement.

Schubert also recast music in tempo and mood. He converted an infectious little march from his Piano Sonata No. 4 years later as the joyful song that ends his next-to-last piano sonata, No. 20.

So here I offer up five tracks:

1 – The finale from Haydn's Symphony No. 13

2 – Mozart's take on the same theme and tempo: the finale to the "Jupiter."

3 – Schubert's marching allegretto movement from Piano Sonatas No. 4

4 – Schubert's recasting of the march in Piano Sonata No. 20.

5 – Beethoven's beloved Variations and Fugue that became the "Eroica" finale.

Plagiarism? Laziness? I think not … do you have any favorite before-and-after uses of themes?

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