Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Beware of Modern Musical Variants

Beware of Modern Musical Variants
Perhaps it should be: Beware (or is it Be Aware?) of Modern Musical Variants
Regardless, here's a look at just one example.

A musical variant could be describe as when one takes a song or piece of music and makes it his own.

Typically musical variants occur in folk music when, through oral tradition, a song might be changed, or "varied," for some reason.

Sometimes the reasons for varying a song is simply because someone forgot the words and made up new ones or because they can't sing a certain part of the song so they adjust the melody to fit their ability.


In today's language a variant could be described as a "cover" or "arrangement" of a song.

Many performers take a song that someone else has already had success with and they "cover" it, or make their own version - or VARIANT - of it.

This in itself is at odds with the traditional idea of variant, but, thinking outside of the box, in a way it is similar.


A day or so ago a friend shared a modernized version of Handel's Messiah (written mid-1700s).

Listening to it made me cringe, but it also got me to noticing the other suggestions on the YouTube page so here are some variants that caught my fancy.

Beware, some might make you cringe. At least they may make you think differently about them.

The original: Handel's "Hallelujah" Chorus from the Messiah.

Royal Choral Society
[Notice the smaller Baroque era orchestra with the harpsichord (the keyboard) at the center of the orchestra. Listen for the trumpet around the 2:30 minute point; it's my favorite part!]

And then around 1980 there was an attempt called Young Messiah that modernized Handel's Messiah by bringing contemporary Christian music sounds to the old-fashioned music.

[This version takes on a very definite gospel vibe while holding some measure of accuracy with the original. The accompanying orchestra is expanded upon.]

Then in the 1990s a reinterpretation called Handel's Messiah: A Soulful Celebration was created that drew upon African-American music styles.

[Liberties were taken with the melodies and harmonies throughout the piece. The singing is very much in the African-American vocal style. The orchestra/band includes instruments not found in the original. The addition of dancers is definitely new.]

Perhaps my favorite variant of the Hallelujah Chorus is this one:

[There are many imposters nowadays, but this is the original performance. This is one of those things that many music directors wish they'd thought of themselves.]

I do wonder what Handel would have thought about these variants/covers/arrangements of his work.

I also wonder how musicologists will categorize these pieces for music history courses.

Do you have any thoughts about these modern musical variants?

Please share...


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