May 26, 2020

"Avalon" and "E Lucevan Le Stelle"

Another item from the history of music copyright violation: 

Was the song "Avalon" a ripoff of a Puccini aria?

Here's an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry for "Vincent Rose," composer of "Whispering," "Avalon," and "Blueberry Hill":
In 1921, the estate of Giovanni Ricordi and the music publishing firm he founded, Casa Ricordi — the publisher of Puccini's operas — sued all parties associated with the song, "Avalon," claiming the melody was "lifted" from the aria "E lucevan le stelle" from Puccini's opera Tosca. The court found for Puccini and his publisher, and they were awarded $25,000 in damages, plus all future print royalties earned by "Avalon". The composer and his heirs, however, continued to receive performance royalties under an agreement reached with Ricordi for payment of only $1. Such royalties amounted to a very significant amount of money during the remainder of the 20th century, certainly far more than the $25,000 paid in damages to the publisher.

I think Puccini's heirs had a solid case, but you can decide for yourself. Puccini's theme is in minor, "Avalon" is pretty much the same theme, in major.

Benny Goodman got a major hit with "Avalon":

Here's Al Jolson's original version. Al wrote the words, and got a hit with his 1920 recording. The main theme starts at about 00:36:

Here's Puccini's "E lucevan le stelle." The clarinet introduces the theme at 1:10, the vocal at 2:34: