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That’s All, Hoax!

When we think of a hoax, things like Bigfoot and UFOs come to mind. But music has its own share of hoaxes. The genre is even called “musical hoax.” You might not realize this, but many of us have musical hoaxes in our repertoire.

Many hoaxes come from the 1910s-1960s, the high point of neo-classical style in music. We can think of Stravinsky reinventing music by Tchaikovsky for The Fairy’s Kiss and (misattributed) Pergolesi’s music for Pulcinella, Richard Strauss using Lully’s music in his Le bourgeois gentilhomme, along with other baroque and classical forms, and many other examples.

Telemann meets (game of) Telephone?

The first piece I ever played in my middle school orchestra was a hoax: Telemann’s Sinfonia (After Trio in a minor). This work was composed by Robert Bennett Brown and published by Carl Fischer. This piece sounds a lot like Vivaldi and nothing like Telemann. When I contacted Carl Fischer about it, they said they didn’t know where Brown obtained his source. I maintain that he obtained it from his imagination.

Brown’s “Telemann Sinfonia”

Vivaldi’s Concerto in A minor

Telemann’s Trio in A minor (one of many)

What makes a musical hoax different from a pastiche or a misattribution?

A musical hoax is a piece of music composed by an individual who intentionally misattributes it to someone else. A hoax is a new composition, not something that existed before.

The most prolific hoaxer was Fritz Kreisler. Because Kreisler has so many forgeries, it is important to distinguish them from his arrangements. Here is a shortlist of Kreisler’s most common forgeries:

  • Boccherini – Allegretto
  • Francoeur – Sicilienne and Rigaudon
  • Pugnani – Praeludium and Allegro, and Tempo di Minuetto
  • Vivaldi  – Violin Concerto in C major (as if Vivaldi did not write enough violin concertos)

Kreisler’s arrangement of Variations on a Theme by Corelli is actually by Tartini, from The Art of Bowing.

Gaspar Cassadó’s Toccata

Another hotly debated piece in the cello world is Gaspar Cassadó’s Toccata, which he claimed was by Frescobaldi.

Here is what Cassadó wants us to think Frescobaldi sounded like.

Here is what Frescobaldi actually sounded like:

Frescobaldi was born in 1583 and died in 1643, over 40 years before any composer whose style Cassadó is trying to imitate. Hoaxers play on the ignorance of their audience, assuming that general or casual listeners don’t know what early baroque music sounds like. Another thing to consider is marketing. In 1925, Cassadó was an up-and-coming cellist/composer. It would be easier for his publisher to sell music as an arrangement than as an (un)original piece by a virtually unknown composer. During that period, Cassadó also published several other “arrangements,” all of which are hoaxes:

  • Boccherini – Minuetto
  • Couperin – Pastorale
  • Handel – Fugue
  • Muffat – Arioso
  • Schubert – Allegretto Grazioso

Other Frequently Encountered Hoaxes in the Cello World

Other hoaxes that cellists often run into are Henri Casadesus’s “J.C. Bach” Concerto, originally for viola, and Remo Giazotto “Albinoni” Adagio. The “Albinoni” went viral in the European pop music world, being quoted by several artists.

Casadesus “J.C. Bach” Concerto

J.C. Bach – Sinfonia Concertante in G major

Giazotto “Albinoni” Adagio

Albinoni – Oboe Concerto in D minor, Adagio

One of many things you will notice in all of the forgeries pretending to be baroque or classical is the overuse of the circle of fifths cliche. Circles of fifths are common in many pieces from Vivaldi to Brahms, but the way hoaxers used it was out of place with the composers they were trying to pretend to be. Here is a shortlist of the circle of fifths cliches used in forgeries.

Cassadó “Couperin”

Cassadó “Frescobaldi”

Kreisler “Pugnani”

Casadesus “J.C. Bach”

Giazotto “Albinoni”

Although the forgery list contains thousands of works, I would like to review one more forgery, the “Paradis” Sicilienne. There are many deniers, but this work was written by Stravinsky’s friend Samuel Dushkin. Dushkin based this piece almost entirely on the harmonic and melodic foundation of Carl Maria von Weber’s Larghetto (Romanze) from the Violin Sonata, Op. 10, No. 1, more specifically, on Kreisler’s arrangement of the piece. Kreisler moved all of the piano melodic material to the violin. That is all.

Weber – Larghetto

Dushkin “Paradis” Sicilienne

My Take

I have many issues with forgeries like this.

  1. It is a forgery, a fraud, a lie. Putting Frescobaldi’s name on the Toccata by Cassadó is like putting Brahms’ name on a piece that sounds like John Adams.
  2. Copyright issues. Of the above works by 20th Century composers, many are still under original (or extended) copyright, meaning arrangers and performers of our time are breaking the copyright laws of their country and worldwide. Dushkin will remain in copyright for another 5 years in Canada and 25 years in the EU. Cassadó’s Toccata came into the public domain in the US this year but will remain in copyright for another 15 or so years in the EU. This is a problem.
    Anyone who arranged or recorded the Toccata in the US before 2021 under the assumption that it is by Frescobaldi is, strictly speaking, guilty of copyright infringement.
  3. These works arguably do not stand up to the original composers in quality. Instead, they are just cheap knockoffs (like Faux-lex watches and Frada handbags).