A Devil to Play, but Watch the Plagiarism Please

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Having heard a few good things about the recent book A Devil to Play by Jasper Rees I ordered it from Amazon.com and it arrived today. I was looking forward to reading it after the semester ends. It is a book with an interesting premise. The publisher describes it as follows:

In the days before his fortieth birthday, London-based journalist Jasper Rees trades his pen for a French horn that has been gathering dust in the attic for more than twenty-two years, and, on a lark, plays it at the annual festival of the British Horn Society.

Despite an embarrassingly poor performance, the experience inspires Rees to embark on a daunting, bizarre, and ultimately winning journey: to return to the festival in one year’s time and play a Mozart concerto—solo—to a large paying audience.

A Devil to Play is the true story of an unlikely midlife crisis spent conquering sixteen feet of wrapped brass tubing widely regarded as the most difficult instrument to master, as well as the most treacherous to play in public. It is the history of man’s first musical instrument, a compelling journey that moves from the walls of Jericho to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, from the hunting fields of France to the heart of Hollywood. And it is the account of one man’s mounting musical obsession, told with pitch-perfect wit and an undeniable charm—an endearing, inspiring tale of perseverance and achievement, relayed masterfully, one side-splittingly off-key note at a time.

Skimming around, the narrative looks interesting and I am very interested to read more about his experience with the horn of Dennis Brain especially as I just purchased a very similar horn. I looked back in the bibliography and index to see if I or my writings were mentioned, and they are not. Then I had a thought, I wonder what he says about Franz Strauss? So I turned to page 193 and was startled to find that he seems to have plagiarized my writings on Franz Strauss and that on the previous page he also apparently referenced the Joshua Garret dissertation on Brahms that I happened to be looking at on Monday, as I note in an update to this post.

Plagiarism is something every junior high student knows you are not supposed to do. Author Jasper Rees is a journalist. As this is a serious charge, what is my evidence?

About Franz Strauss Jasper Rees wrote:

He played in the premieres of Tristan und Isolde (1865), Der Meistersinger (1868), Das Rheingold (1869), and Die Walküre (1870); and much later, Parsifal (1882). Franz Strauss worshipped at the traditional alter of the Viennese school whose gods were Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, and took umbrage at the enormous demands made upon him by Wagner’s interminable operas, and even more interminable rehearsals. In the seventh hour of the twenty-seventh rehearsal of Die Meistersinger, under the baton of Hans von Bülow, Strauss “said bluntly that he could play no more. ‘Then take your pension!’ said the irritated Bülow. Strauss picked up his horn, went to the Intendant, and asked for his pension ‘at the orders of Herr von Bülow.’ As he was indispensable, [Intendant Karl von] Perfall had to use all his diplomacy to smooth the trouble out.”

Strauss referred to the composer as “the Mephisto Richard Wagner.” Richard Strauss recalled an exchange between the pair of them. “Wagner once went past the horn player, who was sitting in his place in moody silence, and said, ‘Always gloomy, these horn players,’ whereupon my father replied ‘We have good reason to be.'” He was even gloomy on the day after his nemesis died in 1883. The sixty-year-old principal horn refused to stand with the rest of his colleagues in silent tribute to the composer of the Ring Cycle. He evidently belonged to that rare strain of horn players who are bombastic, dictatorial, vain, monumentally rude, and generally insufferable. He once punched an orchestra secretary in the face when told to play Così Fan Tutti only twenty four hours after performing Der Fliegende Holländer. “Strauss is an unbearable, curmudgeonly fellow,” sighed Wagner, “but when he plays his horn one can say nothing, for it is so beautiful.”

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Pretty impressive information! I love those quotes and how he even works that bracketed passage into the one quote. Looks pretty scholarly!

Unfortunately, Jasper cut and pasted from the Internet to create much of this text. I would point as “exhibit A” the biography of Franz Strauss that I wrote in 2003 that is posted on The IHS Online, the website of the International Horn Society. There I wrote that

Comments made about Franz Strauss by musical figures of the period reveal both the esteem in which he was held as a performer and something of his character as a man. A musical conservative, Franz Strauss nevertheless performed in the premiere performances of several important operas of Richard Wagner in Munich, including Tristan und Isolde (1865), Die Meistersinger (1868), Das Rheingold (1869), and Die Walküre (1870). The conductor of the first two of these premieres, Hans von Bülow (1830-1894), called Franz Strauss “the Joachim of the horn,” and also commented, “The fellow is intolerable, but when he blows his horn you can’t be angry with him.” Wagner mirrored Bülow’s comments, and is quoted as saying, “Strauss is an unbearable, curmudgeonly fellow, but when he plays his horn one can say nothing, for it is so beautiful.” Franz Strauss had artistic differences with both of these figures, which make the compliments they paid to him as a performer all the more meaningful. A story recalled by Richard Strauss relates that “Wagner once went past the horn player, who was sitting in his place in moody silence, and said, ‘Always gloomy, these horn players,’ whereupon my father replied ‘We have good reason to be.'” Another story relates a difficult situation between Franz Strauss and Bülow. As the grueling dress rehearsal wore on at 4:00 in the afternoon for the premiere of Die Meistersinger, a rehearsal that had started at 9:00 and which followed 26 other rehearsals for this premiere, all performed without an assistant horn, Franz Strauss could take it no longer. As Ernest Newman relates the story,

Strauss said bluntly that he could play no more. “Then take your pension!” said the irritated Bülow. Strauss picked up his horn, went to the Intendant, and asked for his pension “at the orders of Herr von Bülow.” As he was indispensable, [Intendant Karl von] Perfall had to use all his diplomacy to smooth the trouble out.

In fairness Rees has compiled his section with information from at least one other source, maybe a couple others, but mine is pretty obviously a main source. Also I realize that A Devil to Play was not written as or intended to be a scholarly resource, it is for a more general audience, in a similar category as Paper Lion by George Plimpton. But still this is quite disappointing to see. The Franz Strauss biography in the IHS website is based on materials in my dissertation, where every resource is cited carefully with footnotes. Also I recorded a CD of works of Franz Strauss that in the jacket contains much of this same text. At least he could have given me a little credit for my hours and hours of work on this topic? I specifically remember it took me a good while to track down the full name of Karl von Perfall, as it was not stated in the Ernest Newman book. That is why it is in brackets in the quote.

The moral of this story being you may think you won’t get caught but someone will spot your plagiarism right away, just as I have spotted this example and the Brahms example right away the very first evening I have had this book in my hands. I bet there are more examples in this book; it can’t just be confined to these two pages. A Devil to Play may still be a good read but I am disappointed to see obvious Internet cut and paste in a significant and popular publication. Follow the example of Jasper Rees in terms of playing and enjoying the horn but don’t follow his example as a scholar.

UPDATE: Please note that author Jasper Rees has posted replies to this post in the comments section. I do thank him for his comments and wish him well as he goes forward in promotion of his book and of the horn.

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