A comment on a Philosophy SE Question by MGZero:

You'll probably find this interesting. Mozart created the first illegal copy of Misere, which was heavily guarded by the Vatican. How did he do it? He listened to it once in person and wrote the sheet music for it from memory.

This source backs up this claim but any research into this is not cited.

Is this story true or just a fantasy?

  • 16
    That's how I pirate music, as well... I listen to a song, then write out the MP3 using a hex editor from memory...
    – Flimzy
    Nov 10 '11 at 0:41
  • 3
    I have trouble calling Mozart a pirate because the term isn't well-defined. Clearly, he did not infringe copyright, trademark or patent laws.
    – Oddthinking
    Nov 10 '11 at 0:57
  • 4
    To be honest, the term 'pirate' is entirely incorrect in this context anyway. The music corporates jumped on it to heighten reactions from the public, as it implies aggressive theft. Put music 'piracy' doesn't involve stealing of a product at all. It is entirely copyright violation - which just doesn't sound anywhere as exciting. (sorry about the offtopic rant :-) )
    – Rory Alsop
    Nov 10 '11 at 10:15
  • 2
    I need to retract my objection, sorry! The definition of pirate 'meaning "one who takes another's work without permission" first recorded 1701'. I was off in my personal estimate by only about 250 years!
    – Oddthinking
    Nov 10 '11 at 12:39
  • 1
    @Oddthinking - I guess my thought was that there is no earlier known instance of music piracy... Though other than my singular claim I can see how that is not really notable... and it would be a different question from the question about was Mozart a pirate... arrg... wonder if Mozart just talked normal on national talk like a pirate day?
    – Chad
    Nov 10 '11 at 14:19

This story is supported by a contemporaneous letter written by Mozart's family in 1770, and the biographical notes written by Mozart's sister a couple of decades after the event in 1792.

WikiSource provides* excerpts from two translated documents:

And as according to tradition it was forbidden under ban of excommunication to make a copy of it from the papal music, the son undertook to hear it and then copy it out. And so it came about that when he came home, he wrote it out, the next day he went back again, holding his copy in his hat, to see whether he had got it right or not. But a different Miserere was sung. However, on Good Friday the first was repeated again. After he had returned home he made a correction here and there, then it was ready. It soon became known in Rome, [and] he had to sing it at the clavier at a concert. The castrato Christofori, who sang it in the chapel, was present. --from Otto Erich Deutsch, Mozart: A Documentary Biography, translated by Eric Blom, Peter Branscombe, and Jeremy Noble. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1965.

Note: It slightly contradicts the claim made - he needed to hear it more than once.

*WikiSource have deleted this page due to copyright concerns. I believe this counts as "fair use"/"fair dealings", and have no such concerns.

  • 3
    "he needed to hear it more than once" - I always though Mozart was a talentless hack! :-)
    – Zano
    Nov 10 '11 at 16:40
  • 1
    @Zano Sounds like the plot for “Anonymous 2”. Roland Emmerich will be ever so happy. Nov 11 '11 at 10:15
  • I thought this story was very well known as I recently heard it on a BBC documentary about the Miserere. Besides, the concept of copyright was weak or non-existent and the vatican relied on secrecy to protect the piece. Does piracy mean anything without copyright? The vatican decided not to enforce any of its sanctions once the secret was out.
    – matt_black
    Nov 15 '11 at 21:04
  • @matt, if we have learnt nothing from Skeptics.SE, we've learnt well-known stories can be wrong. My initial thought when reading the questions was along the same lines as you: "Before copyright, trademark and patent law, IP piracy had no meaning", but I figured the threat of ex-communication, and the fact that that meaning of the word actually had been around for some time, then this could be considered IP piracy.
    – Oddthinking
    Nov 15 '11 at 22:29

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