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From the YouTube Music Video Archives: ‘Ave Maria’ by Giulio Caccini Vladimir Vavilov

You’ve heard this lovely aria before, haven’t you? I’d probably heard it first in the movie Donnie Darko. Haunting, though it hadn’t really haunted me as much as it might have. (That could be said of the movie as well as the music.)

But one morning this week, during my commute, the DJ for the local classical station gave this piece a memorable introduction: This ‘Ave Maria’, though commonly attributed to the 16th-/17th-century Italian composer Giulio Caccini, is almost certainly a hoax. In fact (said the DJ), this piece was most likely composed around 1970 by a Russian who rejoiced in the name of Vladimir Vavilov… and who had a habit of publishing his original compositions as ‘Anonymous’, or under false attributions. Vavilov — a lutenist as well as a composer — evidently recorded his ‘Ave Maria’ for a Soviet state-owned record label, presenting it as some anonymous Baroque composition he had uncovered. After his death, it somehow picked up the Caccini attribution, and has been widely recorded since. (The fact that the aria’s only text consists of the two words ‘ave Maria’, rather than the full text of the prayer, seems to be a sign that it was written somewhere outside the spatio-temporal bounds of Latin Christendom — bogus as a three-rouble note.)

But the DJ, before he spun the record, gave this particular screw still another turn: He suggested that Vavilov might have borrowed the melody for his ‘anonymous’ aria from Jerome Kern’s 1939 standard ‘All the Things You Are’ — making this ‘Ave Maria’ not just a hoax, but a joke.

Credible? Judge for yourself:


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:

  • Text by Archangel Gabriel
    • addressing mother of God Incarnate
  • Latin
    • translation from divinely-inspired Greek text of Saint Luke
      • presumably translated from Gabriel’s Aramaic (Hebrew?) original
  • Composed and recorded by Russian lutenist circa 1970
  • Published as anonymous work
  • Distributed by Soviet state-owned record company
    • Communist
      • godless
  • Wrongly attributed to Baroque-era Italian composer
  • Likely adapted from 1939 Broadway show-tune

достоевщина

The strangeness of the Dostoevskian universe, so well conveyed by Virginia Woolf (‘We open the door and find ourselves in a room full of Russian generals, the tutors of Russian generals, their stepdaughters and cousins and crowds of miscellaneous people who are all talking at the tops of their voices about their most private affairs’), which foreigners tend to ascribe to some peculiarities of the Russian national character, is just as strongly felt and often resented by Russians themselves.

Russian dictionaries list a common noun, derived from the writer’s name, dostoevshchina, which is a derogatory term describing an undesirable mode of behavior. A person guilty of dostoevshchina is being deliberately difficult, hysterical or perverse. Another possible meaning of the word is excessive and morbid preoccupation with one’s own psychological processes. The word is part of the normal Russian vocabulary, incidentally.

Simon Karlinsky, ‘Dostoevsky as Rorschach Test’, New York Times, 13 June 1971.  In Crime and Punishment (a Norton Critical Edition, Third Edition), edited by George Gibian, 615. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1989.

The Subtle Korrektiv

The painter Bryullov once made a correction [sic] on a student’s sketch. The pupil, looking at the transformed sketch, said: ‘You hardly at all touched my study, yet it has become entirely different.’ Bryullov answered: ‘Hardly-at-all is where art begins.’

Tolstoy, Leo. ‘How Minute Changes of Consciousness Caused Raskolnikov to Commit Murder’. Excerpt from ‘Why Do Men Stupefy Themselves?’. Translated by George Gibian. In Crime and Punishment (a Norton Critical Edition, Third Edition), edited by George Gibian, 487. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1989. Originally published as introductory essay to a book on drunkenness by P.S. Alexeev (1890).