It’s no secret that there are a lot of songs that borrow from previous ones. A well-documented example is “Hatikvah”, the national anthem of Israel. It is a variation of a song that goes back at least to the Renaissance, known as “La Mantovana” in Italy, from Flanders as “Ik zag Cecilia komen”, from Scotland as “My Mistress is Prettie”, from Romania as “Carul cu boi”, used in the Czech composer Bedřich Smetana’s symphonic work “Vltava”, in the Serbian song “Bojarka”, and so on.
Now, what about some songs that may not be so well-documented, but that you have noticed as seemingly borrowing from other ones? Here are some that I have remarked:
Item 1: “Heffalumps and Woozles”, from the Disney film “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day”. As a minimum the refrain very much seems to be based on the Scottish folk song “Charlie is My Darling”.
Item 2: The Dutch national anthem, “Wilhelmus van Nassouwe”. It bears a striking resemblance to a song that we sang in my school choir, “To Music”, which is supposed to be 16th-century German (and the Dutch national anthem itself is different lyrics set to a French pro-Catholic song). The similarity with “To Music” seems too big to be coincidental.
Item 3: A song dating to the 18th century, one version of which is called “Venus Minerva”, begins with a phrase that seems to have entered a lot of different songs. For example, a Dutch birthday song, “Lang zal hij Leven” or the “Heckerlied”, a song of the German revolution of 1848 (though not always set to this melody). Or “Když jsme táhli k Jaroměři”, a vulgar Czech military song from the time of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Or the Slovak nationalistic / Fascist song “Rež a rúbaj”. There is even a version from Taiwan, a military song called “The Veteran”. What is remarkable about all these songs is that they all use more or less the same opening phrase, but then the rest of the song sounds different in each case. There is even some similarity to the opening of the air from Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore “Oh Joy, Oh Rapture Unforseen”, though that quickly takes on its own flavor. Amazing that so many songs start more or less the same way.