Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Duffin, Ross W. “Calixa Lavallée and the Construction of a National Anthem.” The Musical Quarterly 103 (December 2020): 9-32.

In composing Canada’s national anthem, O Canada, Calixa Lavallée used multiple musical models including the March of the Priests from Mozart’s Magic Flute, crafting a patchwork of paraphrased segments to convey the national spirit. Lavallée, who was born near Montreal but spent much of his musical career performing in the United States, composed O Canada in 1880 on a commission from the Congrès Catholique Canadiens Français. Around 1936 it began to be used as Canada’s semi-official national anthem, and it was officially recognized as such in 1980. Critics have long noted the similarities between the opening eight measures of O Canada and March of the Priests, with the two prevailing positions being that this is a case of unintentional borrowing or a coincidental use of a common musical figure. The identical first three notes, the strikingly similar harmony and contour, and the thematic relevance of Mozart’s tune to a national anthem together make a strong case that Lavallée deliberately chose to use Mozart as a model. Liszt’s Festklänge (1853) also appears to be a source for Lavallée as it too uses the same triadic opening as well as a distinctive transition phrase sharing both contour and function. A model for the second eight bars of O Canada can be identified as well. This passage closely resembles Wach auf from Wagner’s Die Meistersinger (1868) in melody and pedal point. While it is difficult to know for sure that Lavallée was familiar with Festklänge and Wach auf, both pieces were readily available and popular in their own right, and Lavallée was a well-traveled musician with contemporary taste. The final section of O Canada also closely resembles another popular tune: Matthias Keller’s Speed Our Republic (or The American Hymn). In constructing a new composition out of paraphrases of several sources, Lavallée created a patchwork, a fact that should not diminish his anthem’s importance as a musical symbol of Canada.

Works: Calixa Lavallée: O Canada (12-22)

Sources: Mozart: The Magic Flute (12-16); Liszt: Festklänge (16-18); Wagner: Die Meistersinger (18-20); Matthias Keller: Speed Our Republic (20-22)

Index Classifications: 1800s, Popular

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

Except where otherwise noted, this website is subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
Musical Borrowing and Reworking - - 2024
Creative Commons Attribution License