He recently replaced a movement of his string quartet Kohelet, heard in November in a Philadelphia Chamber Music Society concert, after the first one was said to contain a Latin American pop song.
An overture commissioned by three dozen orchestras titled Sidereus, played here in November by the Curtis 20/21 ensemble, is much the same piece as Barbeich, by Michael Ward-Bergeman - the explanation being that the two worked on the score for Francis Ford Coppola's 2009 film Tetro, couldn't use some of the best music, and agreed that each had a right to recycle it for his own use. Bloggers are skeptical.
Golijov looks worst in his acclaimed cello concerto Azul, which begins with an uncredited quotation of a theme by his fellow Argentine, the late Astor Piazzolla.
"Holy guacamole! He didn't even change the key!" wrote one composer in an e-mail after listening to Piazzolla and Golijov side-by-side in excerpts featured on the blog http://www.orartswatch.org/musical-plagiarism-in-eugene-its-complicated/.
Yet, we shouldn't be surprised. Many composers have recycled others' music - and not just in the 18th century, when it was accepted. It's what Temple University faculty composer Maurice Wright calls the cosi fan tutte defense - "so do we all," though it's hushed up. Perhaps the current "tempest," as Wright calls it, will "shed some light on the business of orchestral music as conducted today."
In other words, there may be rather less originality out there than we think.
Though most composers won't speak about the matter for attribution, all sorts of half-hidden, common-knowledge revelations are surfacing.
Between the mid-1920s and his 1953 death, nearly all of Sergei Prokofiev's orchestrations were farmed out to students, albeit with specific directives from the composer. Leopold Stokowski's famous Bach orchestrations long have been rumored to be the work of Lucien Cailliet (1891-1985), a staff arranger with the Philadelphia Orchestra, who took credit for them in later years (though, if true, he no doubt had highly specific directives from Stokowski). Luciano Berio is said to have given a freer hand to his students in his orchestrations.
At what point do assistants become uncredited creative collaborators? Even if one could read minds in detail, such a judgment call is hard to make and may fall under the heading of a business deal sometimes necessary to fulfill a commitment.
More damaging are perhaps-unconscious quotations or borrowings that are discovered too late. Andrew Lloyd Webber couldn't have wanted to be dragged into an out-of-court settlement with the Giacomo Puccini estate when his song "Music of the Night" was revealed to quote the Italian composer's opera Girl of the Golden West. Ditto for George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord," adjudged all too similar to "He's So Fine."
Leonard Bernstein was such a musical magpie that, in later years, he insisted on a one-month break between conducting and composing, to get other composers' notes out of his head. Poet Richard Wilbur recalls driving home from a session working on the musical Candide when a Saint-Saëns piece came on the radio, prompting Bernstein to exclaim, "Oh, God . . . I stole that tune, too!"
West Side Story is full of Beethoven: "Somewhere," for one, is drawn from the slow movement of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5. Bernstein's miracle is how thoroughly he transformed the music's meaning. Bernstein's luck is that Beethoven is in the public domain.
More curious is Stravinsky's claim that he didn't use folk songs, when his sources existed in long-published anthologies. One reason: The expat Russian was so put off by the Soviets' use of folk music as propaganda that he didn't want to be perceived as part of the endeavor.
Perhaps Golijov's Azul is actually based on some folk-music source common to his piece and Piazzolla's. If not, the problem could be solved by acknowledgment - as did Ralph Vaughan Williams with his Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.
The biggest danger of the current scandal is how much the creative process could be inhibited by resulting self-consciousness. Golijov already is bad about meeting deadlines - and he faces some big ones.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin's first Philadelphia Orchestra season includes Golijov's new Violin Concerto. Nézet-Séguin has said, "I'm confident we're going to get it" on time.
But that was before the scandal.
Contact music critic David Patrick Stearns at firstname.lastname@example.org.