How A Single Note Added 'Grief' To A Song

 One copyright record has an especially interesting story.

William Grant Still—cited as the “dean of African-American composers” in The Performing Arts Encyclopedia—registered his composition “Grief” on June 15, 1953, depositing an original unpublished manuscript with the Copyright Office. He wrote the music for a poem by LeRoy V. Brant.

The Oliver Ditson Music Company first published the song in 1955. A version published afterwards, however, introduced an error. The final note of the vocal line in this version does not match the one before it, creating a dissonance that extends a mood of sadness through the song’s end.

“This incorrect version of the song was widely performed and came to be considered authoritative,” said James Wintle, a Music Division reference specialist.

“For more than 50 years, the mistake was unknown by the public.”

 Still’s family, however, felt certain Still did not mean for his composition to end the way it was being performed. Judith Anne Still, Still’s daughter, turned to the Library’s Music Division for help in 2009. “She knew about the copyright registration and wanted to find the deposit to show her father’s intention for the song,” Wintle said.

A search succeeded in locating the deposit and proving Judith Anne Still right. The original composition ends on a consonant note, suggesting a “sense of rest and relief” that resolves grief, Wintle said. “It vastly changed the way an important 20th-century composition is interpreted... "

Copyright Deposit Sets Record Straight on Noted 20th-Century Song--Wendi A. Maloney, Copyright Lore






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