Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Atlas, Allan W. “Belasco and Puccini: Old Dog Tray and the Zuni Indians.” The Musical Quarterly 75 (Fall 1991): 362-98.

The aria “Che faranno i vecchi miei,” sung by the minstrel character Jake Wallace in Act I Puccini’s opera La Fanciulla del West, was long thought to have its source in the Stephen Foster tune Old Dog Tray. In fact, the source for the Puccini aria is Carlos Troyer’s arrangement of the Chorus of Virgin Maidens from the Zuni Indian Festive Sun-Dance. The long-standing misconception of this aria’s source arose primarily because the play on which La Fanciulla is based, David Belasco’s The Girl of the Golden West, includes a line that implores Jake Wallace to sing Old Dog Tray; since then, scholars have assumed a direct source-work connection between the songs in the play and the opera. Not only does the tune Belasco included in the play—an ensemble arrangement written by the music director for the play, William Walter Furst—not match Puccini’s aria in either poetic meter or melody, but Belasco’s tune also differs greatly from the music and lyrics of Foster’s song. A look at Puccini’s sketches and letters solves this puzzle: the composer received a book containing the Festive Sun-Dance from Sybil Seligman in 1907. With the exception of phrase repetition, the melody of the opening period in “Che faranno” matches the Zuni Indian tune exactly.

Works: Puccini: La Fanciulla del West (362-92); William Walter Furst: Old Dog Tray (370-76).

Sources: William Walter Furst: Old Dog Tray (370-76); Stephen Foster: Old Dog Tray (373-77); Carlos Troyer: The Festive Sun-Dance (384-87, 391).

Index Classifications: 1900s

Contributed by: Nathan Blustein

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