Creative Borrowing Handel & Dylan

Went to an Andreas Scholl concert here in Sydney last week and was again impressed by the remarkable quality of his singing. As usual, his encore was Handel’s classic aria, ‘Ombra mai fu’.

When I hear Scholl’s effortless singing of it, I am always reminded of the great soul singers like Sam Cooke and Sam Cooke, who had a similar way of making great singing seem so easy. This is not the version I heard, of course, but gives an impression of the quality of Scholl’s singing:

What also struck me about the aria is that I had read an article recently on the net which suggested that Handel had largely based it on an earlier one by a relatively obscure composer, Giovanni Bononcini. Indeed, Handel was relatively unscrupulous about such borrowings although it should be borne in mind that this was in an age before copyright.

I decided to check if the Bonocini aria was available on the net, and discovered this fine version of it by Simone Kermes, a very good singer and a rising star of classical music:

What struck me here was that while Handel had borrowed the lyric of the aria and some of its musical architecture, his version was substantially different and, to my mind at least, still was, by a long way, superior to Bonocini’s version (which has considerable merits of its own).

There is an analogy here, I think, with the difference between Dylan’s ‘creative borrowing’ in his early career and some of his more recent work – where the borrowing process is far less subtle and the results far less interesting…