Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Porgy and Bess does not belong to anyone

The refactored version of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess is winning exciting Tony awards or whatever, but the thing that strikes me is that it is the estate of the author/composer who are calling all the shots.

None of these relatives probably ever even met George Gershwin, the composer of the 1935 opera.  Ira Gershwin died in 1983 if Wikipedia is to be believed.  Yet somehow these other folks--and I'm sure they're perfectly nice people--get the final say on anything that is done with the 80 year old opera.  And royalties.

Porgy and Bess should have entered the public domain a long, long time ago.  Sure, someone might make something derivative from it that the estate would not approve of.

But when does great art depend upon anyone's approval?  Especially people that had nothing to do with the original creation.

For example, some of the more dated and racist stereotypes have been removed from the show.  On the face of it, this is a good thing.  But let's say someone wanted to stage the show just as it was, perhaps that's the whole point even, to show up the nonsense of the past in a clear and uncut way so that some audiences could be made to appreciate the issue better.

The estate might never allow that.

I'm reminded of just about any remix created by Girltalk.  The remixes are waaaay better (to my ears) than almost any component 70's funk song that is incorporated in it.  But approval is not required for them to be good.

A quote from the article:

“I do think that, as composers and writers, we should leave pretty specific instructions to our estates about how we want our work to be protected..."

Leave all the instructions you like, but you are dead.  Music and art belong to the living.  You do not deserve to control your art from beyond the grave.

Hell, I don't think you have the right to control it while your alive--only the commercial use of it.  But when you're dead, it belongs to the rest of us.

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