Was Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's royal wedding duped by a classical music hoax?
It's a tiny musical nit — but some musicologists are enjoying picking it today!
Music expresses, in a way nothing else can, the emotion of some of the most potent and meaningful moments of our lives. It was lovely to hear a diverse range of substantial music during Saturday's royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and it's a remarkable feat for Decca to have already released a commercial recording, The Royal Wedding: The Official Album, with nearly complete highlights from just a couple of days ago.
The producer, Anna Barry, has done admirable work on the shortest of timelines. She said, "It is a massive responsibility with absolutely no room for error."
Well, some musicologists are feeling smug, having noticed a small error.
During Saturday's ceremony, just after the Dean of Windsor's blessing, the talented 19-year-old cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason played a Sicilienne. Decca lists the piece as being written by Austrian pianist and composer Maria Theresia von Paradis. While she wrote a tremendous amount of music that is being deservedly brought to light these days, she didn't pen this little gem.
Violinist Samuel Dushkin claimed to have discovered the piece in the 1920s and said it was a lost work by Von Paradis, a composer who lived in Vienna in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Curiously, Dushkin produced no manuscript to substantiate his claim, but it was quickly published and for decades celebrated as a piece by Von Paradis. While it's impossible to prove a negative, music scholars have recently and convincingly argued that Dushkin wrote the piece himself.
(In fact the publisher of the piece, Schott, now acknowledges this. Von Paradis never mentioned it among her works. Some of the harmonies carry the aroma of early 20th-century composers. Big chunks of the piece bear a striking resemblance to a Sonata by Carl Maria von Weber.)
This isn't the only time Dushkin pulled this kind of stunt. He attributed one of his own violin compositions to Johann Georg Benda.
This all echoes a more famous case from around the same time. Violinist Fritz Kreisler wrote quite a few bon-bons for violin and piano, which he attributed mostly to obscure composers of the early 1700s. Kreisler said that he needed to pad his recitals and that it would be "impudent and tactless to repeat my name endlessly on the programs." It caused a bit of a kerfuffle when, after 30 years of fooling the musical public, he was called out by the New York Times.
My thanks to New York University musicologist Michael Beckerman, who posted about this on his Facebook feed Saturday.