Using old compositions: Blasphemy or inspiration?

The geniuses of former centuries have left a wealth of compositions, many of which are being used for formal musical education.

To what extent may old compositions be used for inspiration towards modern compositions and productions with “unsuitable” instrumentation?

Is there such thing as a “netiquette” in composing, i.e. would it be blasphemy to take a sacred Goldberg variation and instrumentalize it using modern synths and rhythms and professionals would just not do this, as much as a spray painter should not try to mimik Edvard Munchs “Der Schrei” on a train station wall (although some graffiti immediately carries that association)?

I think there are many answers to this question.

I personally love hearing old compositions transformed into more modern versions with todays electronic capabilities. I just think it’s cool. I don’t really find it offensive at all.

On the other side, I can understand people who do not agree with it.

Different flavors for different people.

I think it comes down to whether or not it’s done properly - and that’s where it usually breaks down, which is why many resort to just categorically say “Don’t do it!”

You can’t just pull out a Bach score, enter it hard quantized into a sequencer, and expect it to sound anything other than annoying and pathetic. Can’t even change instruments without some level of reinterpretation. Whether you’re playing classical music on synths, or modern music on traditional instruments, it all needs to add up to a nice interpretation that takes advantage of whatever instruments and other devices that are used.

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Check out “A Fifth of Beethoven” by Walter Murphy. Even though it came out in the 70’s, before all of this DAW stuff, it still shows that, if done right, you can take a classic composition and modernize it with taste. Also, check out this version of Beethoven’s 5th done with a Salsa flavor.

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I think covers and remixes are actually a tribute to the original. So if you do one, you are actually paying your respect to the original composer/producer. And yes, the outcome can be pretty original in itself as you showed with your example.

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Thank you for your feedback and links, both are encouraging for me. Now, after your links, I do remember hearing the Saturday Night Fever version quite a while ago. The Cinco Salsa was new to me, and I think that is a fabulous piece of art, both compositional and performance wise. Meanwhile, I also stumbled across this Mambo version, which, IMHO, does not get up Cinco Salsa in both aspects:

I wish you and your family a happy Christmas season and a great new century!

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Thank you for your feedback, Mikael, and you certainly are absolutely right in my intentions to honour and pay respect to the original composers, including Beethoven, Mussorgski, Debussy and Tárrega, at least for now ;-). I try to create something partially original and worthwhile to listen to, despite of the fact that apparently this fits into no genre whatsoever and therefore will take a looooonnng time to find the miniscule share of interested listeners. For now, I am my own audience, and it turns out that I keep listening to my own stuff quite a bit - which I certainly should do, because I need to learn a lot about balancing, production, articulation etc.; I have enrolled in one of your courses and will spend more time on that next year ;-).

So, thanks again, also for providing this fantastic platform and managing this community! I wish you and your family a happy Christmas season and a great new century!

I dig that Mambo version. I grew up in Spanish Harlem, NYC, and I’ve been listening to Salsa, and other forms of Latin music, my whole life, and when I hear ANY music with Latin flavor, it always resonates with me.

There’s a saying, that is repeated with sightly different variations…“Good composer’s borrow, Great composer’s steal.” It’s been going on for centuries. I came across this video a while ago. It’s VERY interesting, and inspirational. Especially for people who are up and coming composer’s (such as myself), or more experienced composer’s. I think it’s MUST SEE…It’s only about 12 minutes long, Check it out:

In case you haven´t heard these, which I stumbled across on YT:

Symphonic Salsa Danube.

Eine kleine Nachtmusik Salsa:


OMG…those videos are AWESOME!!! I thought performing Beethoven’s 5th, in Latin form, was dynamite, but hearing The Blue Danube, and Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik done in Latin form has just blew me away.