The Verdict on Stravinsky

Stravinsky's Rite Of Spring is still causing ructions a century after its premiere, this time in Brighton, as Simon Adams explains

Huge legal shenanigans to report from Brighton. The planned appearance at Brighton’s popular Verdict Club (pictured right) on Friday 28 October of David Patrick’s Octet was halted with barely a day to go by lawyers acting on behalf of Boosey & Hawkes music publishers. The octet has been touring their version of Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring round the south of England but m’learned friends stepped in claiming infringement of copyright. In what appears to be a cease and desist action, David Patrick has been threatened with legal proceedings and even bankruptcy and has been banned from selling or distributing his CD in the UK (which is a very fine release, by the way), despite having had its recording authorised.

The issue has probably arisen because of differences in international copyright law. The first performance of The Rite Of Spring in the USA (1917?) took place before the tardy introduction of copyright laws there in 1923, meaning that the work has no copyright across the pond. British laws, however, smother the work with copyright protection. Oddly, two-handed versions of the same piece seem to abide by different laws, which is why Dylan Howe and Will Butterworth’s wonderful drum and piano interpretation (raved about by me in JJ May 2010) caused no such ructions.

Never one to take such events lying down, the Verdict admirably responded at such short notice by presenting a gig by the Geoff Simkins/Andy Panayi Quintet entitled The Copyright Of Spring. The entire gig consisted of contrafacts, which as we all know are new tunes to the chords of an existing song. Apparently, melodies are copyrightable, chord changes are not. What fun! See you all in the High Court.

post a comment