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Rufus, Caccini, Kosma, French Chanson

Rufus Wainright’s GOING TO A TOWN (-THAT’S ALREADY BEEN BURNED DOWN in which he famously sings “I’m so tired of America”) replicates, it’s true, the jazz progression of AUTUMN LEAVES, and websmart-asses have pointed out the piano part is actually identical to the accompaniment of AVE MARIA by Baroque composer Giulio Caccini. At best reflecting Wainright’s unconscious classical pedigree. Fail.

I write at this late date because I looked it up once, and spent the equivalent effort retracing my steps when my curiosity outpaced my memory. This time I’m posting what I found for my own future reference. Just as the internet now substitutes for knowing, it serves as my backup for memory. Technicians no longer have to learn how, they have to know where to look it up online. You no longer have to remember it either, so long as the answers remain there.

Anyone who agrees with Earl Okin that French popular music has followed an endless downward spiral with the minor key fugues of Michel Legrand, has perhaps film composer Joseph Kosma to blame. The Hungarian born Kosma wrote the scores to the greatest French classics, among them RULES OF THE GAME, THE GRAND ILLUSION and CHILDREN OF PARADISE. It was from a 1946 Marcel Carne film that LES FEUILLES MORTE emerged, whose jazz chords perhaps doomed the melodic melancholy of the French to mordant sentimentality.

When Giulio Caccini’s “Ave Maria” was unearthed in 1970, anyone with an musical ear might have wondered how the exhausting blue chord progression found itself in the hands of a Baroque composer. The musical malaise was so distinctly contemporary to the 70s, coincidentally when the piece was supposedly rediscovered. Of course it turns out it hadn’t.

The Ave Maria appropriated by Rufus Wainright was written by Russian composer Vladimir Vavilov in 1970 attributed to “Anonymous” I’ll wager because he didn’t want to take credit for it either. Somebody else decided it would have more luster if thought to have come from a more pious age. Now it’s called “Ave Maria by Giulio Caccini” by Vavilov, although the association is absurd. This composition was a thoroughly natural denouement to Kosma’s French Blues. Ave Maria loses none of its divine beauty, though its provenance was a hoax. The joke is on the many prominent recording artists who thought they were channeling holy canon.

One thought on “Rufus, Caccini, Kosma, French Chanson

  1. Classical music is a great way to “score” melodies for your lyrics. Because the original composers are usually quite thoroughly dead and you don’t therefore have to pay royalties.

    Long standing process, too, “Danny Boy” is on a tune called Londonderry Air by the British and Akushla mine by the Irish. God alone knows who the original composer was.

    Try doing that with a Beatles song and see how long your bankroll holds out. Conan O’Brien did it to NBC on his last show, had a huge budget for content so he had the band do iirc “Penny Lane”.

    On the rest of it, Paris is smack in the middle of the continent, makes a nice convergence for roads. All kinds of trade goods go through there, including Religion, Literature, and Music. Along with other arts.

    And of course back and forth wars of conquest. You know, Germany and France have gone 55 years without attacking one another. That’s a record. Astonishing too.

    Berlin and Vienna had equivalent centers for the Arts, might have them again built to their former positions. Josephine Baker, my favorite stripper, went to Berlin in the 20s to get away from American Jim Crow bigotry. Almost a good move.

    Just a side note and a probable explanation for the melancholy and malaise in the arts since that time. Nothing like a humongous and horrifyingly bad war to screw up everything.

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