I've just analyzed the beginning and the tempo of the scherzo of Dvorak's 9th symphony. When I did it, I've realized he had "copied" the scherzo of Beethoven's 9th! What is going on here?enter image description here

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    I imagine it is purposeful. I'm not posting this as an answer because I haven't really studied the piece's history, so I am not confident in my conclusion. But I seem to recollect that Dvorak was trying to fit the music of underprivileged American groups into the great classical tradition. If I'm right, it is probably a purposeful reference, meant to evoke Beethoven directly. – Ben I. Feb 13 at 5:18
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    Odd--I've listened to both symphony scherzos, and Dvorak's scherzo' s opening never struck me as resembling the opening of that Beethoven work. I'm willing to believe the resemblance is coincidence (or just a sign that Beethoven's works have influenced Dvorak). – Dekkadeci Feb 13 at 7:12
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    While I'm not nearly knowledgeable enough to post an answer; perhaps "plagiarism" is't the best way of thinking about it. See the Wikipedia page for musical quotation. This was quite common in classical music and I don't think it would be considered unethical in the sense that we would think about "plagiarism" today. – user57228 Feb 13 at 7:45
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    They are both Scherzos. Are you seriously suggesting that the tempo indication of "Molto vivace" on both is an indication of plagiarism? – JimM Feb 13 at 21:31

The first theme uses D A F D or ^1 ^5 ^3 ^1.

The second uses E E B B E B or ^1 ^1 ^5 ^5 ^1 ^5. (The opening phrase ends at bar 6. Bar 7 onward starts up a new phrase.)

The figures are similar - based on an octave and eighth notes, but the metrical placement is different.

The two are similar in that both outline a minor chord, at the same fast tempo. That certainly will give them a similar feel.

But in classical music this level of similarity is common.

Did the Beethoven 'inspire' the Dvorak? Seems reasonable, but I wouldn't call it plagarism. It's way, way more import to see how the theme is developed.

  • Nice answer. However, the second is E-B-E-B-G-E, so it is 1-5-1-5-3-1. – Maika Sakuranomiya Feb 21 at 23:19
  • I see what you mean and edited my answer. After looking at the full score I see the first phrase - the thing we are really comparing - only goes to bar 6 in Dvorak. The Beethoven phrase is obviously 8 bars in the full score. I don't know if you intentionally tried to shoehorn the Dvorak excerpt to match Beethoven, but that kind of comparison is misleading. I think this should be compared as phrase to phrase, because phrases are the meaningful musical gesture. – Michael Curtis Feb 22 at 14:23
  • Actually, the intro phrase extends towards the end of my attachment. I've connected each boxed parts with a line, based on their congruence. Plus, they're both scherzos in Molto Vivace! – Maika Sakuranomiya Mar 17 at 11:11

I dispute the idea that these passages are even similar, and from the perspective of 21st century copyright law in the US, this would probably not constitute "plagiarism" at all. In order to qualify as copyright infringement, these two passages would need to be so similar that a person without musical training would recognize them as the same.

These two passages aren't really that similar. It's true that the notes in the first four bars are the same (if transposed to the same key), but those notes are the tonic and dominant of the key - the most commonly used notes in Western music. The rest of the passage is wholly different, except that both end on the tonic (again, extremely common in Western music).

Lastly, the rhythms are completely different. Beethoven's rhythm is based off of a dotted quarter note, while Dvorak's is two eighth notes. Harmonically, Beethoven returns to the tonic in measure 6, while Dvorak delays it to measure 8.

It's certainly possible that Dvorak was inspired by this Beethoven passage, but it does not even come close to the standard of plagiarism.

Of course, US copyright law would have no influence over these pieces written in Europe, but this method of analysis is what's used to determine copyright infringement. If you're interested in learning about US copyright law, I recommend this website from the George Washington Law School: https://blogs.law.gwu.edu/mcir/ - It has information nearly all federal musical copyright cases in US history.


My memory is faulty to extreme, but...

A mid-20th century Eastern Euro or Russian composer (Prokofiev maybe) was disgusted enough with Shostakovitch's Bolero in his (Dmitri) 7th symphony that he (the disgusted composer) deliberately satirized the Bolero theme in a symphony of his own.

However, so far as NewWorld Symphony vs. Beethoven 9th, I am in the camp that says it's a weak equivalence in the first place and probably just a "likeable" rhythm for a Scherzo. I don't think the two pieces correlate.

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    Also, the third movement of Berio's Sinfonia is basically the scherzo from Mahler Symphony No. 2 with a bunch of other musical quotations laid on top of it! – Peter Feb 13 at 16:45

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