Homage? Or Hijacking?

Despite a Gilbreth-esque voice in the back of my head suggesting that this topic is “not of general interest,” I thought I’d share one of the more unusual ways the members of the Susanka household keep themselves amused on Friday evenings: a little game I like to call “Melodic Homage or Hijacking.”

First, a quick definition of terms. “Homage” is a piece that is clearly (and heavily) influenced by another work, yet one which still retains some unique aspects. “Hijacking” is a much more complete “borrowing” of ideas, and usually offers much less (if any) uniqueness.

Trusting the previous paragraphs were suitably opaque, I shall demonstrate. This YouTube clip is Carl Orff’s “Gassenhauer:”

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQ9_6W6bVoQ 300×25]

And this is Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack for “True Romance:”

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jq5kbNW8VKU 300×25]

I’m going with “homage” on this one, because while the sound (and even rhythm) of Zimmer’s piece is clearly harkening back to Orff’s composition, he adds a significant amount of his own material. Like a melody, for example. While the Orff is almost more of a mood than a tune, Zimmer’s has a definite “pep to its melodic step.” (The movie is a different matter altogether.)

Bill Conti’s use of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, on the other hand, feels a lot more like hijacking.

Compare the 5:20 mark in this Heifetz recording…

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFaq9kTlcaY#t=5m15s 300×25]

…with the 2:15 mark from “Yeager’s Triumph,” part of Conti’s The Right Stuff score.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFzMzu6Gjt0#t=2m15s 300×25]

He does change a note or two from the original theme, it’s true – for the worse, in my opinion — but that seems to be a mere formality. When push comes to shove, he’s really just using Tchaikovsky’s music for his soundtrack at pretty much the same level Kubrick uses the Strausses for 2001 or Beethoven for A Clockwork Orange. Why not just incorporate the piece itself, without this “composing” pretense?

 It’s amazing how many film composers are in Homage or/and Hijacking territory, and I plan to compile a more complete list for the future. Somehow, I don’t find myself bothered significantly by a composer who makes use of another composer’s work, even note-for-note. I’ve probably listened to far too many Bach “hijackings” of Vivaldi concerti to feel that Zimmer or Conti are doing something either grossly unethical or even inartistic. A little more classical music never hurt anyone. (And Tchaikovsky can’t really complain that he’s not  getting his fair portion of the soundtrack sales, can he?)

 In fairness, this is not really my idea. There have been “Homage or Stealing” games floating around for years. But I tend to focus almost exclusively on soundtracks, for some unknown reason. And I don’t think most folks are obsessive enough to do that on a regular basis. (Also, in fairness, my wife is a bit more noncommittal than I on whether or not this is one of her favorite ways to spend a Friday evening. But I don’t think she enjoys it any less than the “Let’s play YouTube clips of movie soundtracks and see if Joseph can guess what they are” game. Yes, I married up. And how.)


Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. Currently residing in Lander, Wyoming -- "where Stetsons meet Birkenstocks" -- he is a columnist for Crisis Magazine and the Patheos Catholic portal.

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