“Where do I know this piece from?” How many times have each of us stumbled across this thought when hearing a famous classical piece? Sometimes we can't recall immediately the name of a composer or the movement it belongs to, but we can surely hum along to it. This is because, whether we like it or not, we experience classical music everywhere: in restaurants, in shops, while on hold on the phone waiting for our turn, in a friend's house cooking together, in an elevator, at the Olympic games with synchronized swimming and figure skating, in our favorite movies. This last one is often the one that makes a particular melody stick in our mind the most, because it adds color and moving pictures to what we hear.
Think about cartoons for example. Can you imagine anything that works more beautifully together than classical compositions and cartoon characters dancing, fighting, running, dreaming, or merely 'playing music'? Disney, Warner Bros, and MGM understood this magic from the very beginning of animation and made classical music an integral part of their fantasy world. They found out that there was an instrument for every small detail and an orchestral work for every situation: music would just enhance the dream.
Often, the scenes of these classics chosen for such emblematic pieces, are also a caricature of the classical music world in general, for instance they can depict the typical audience’s behavior, the severity of the conductor, the concentration of the soloist, struggles with learning and common distractions.
Here are a few of the most classic scenes where classical music left an indelible mark:
Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2" is one of all time’s cartoons’ favourite tune. Initiated by Mickey Mouse cartoon in 1929 known as "The Opry House", the tradition continued with Bugs Bunny’s "Rhapsody Rabbit" and Tom & Jerry’s famous " Cat Concerto":
In "Pink, Plunk, Plink", the Pink Panther is an improvised violinist attempting to play Beethoven’s “5th Symphony”:
Tom & Jerry: Tom learns how to play piano in 6 lessons with Johann Strauss II’s famous Waltzes:
Bugs Bunny in “The Rabbit Of Seville” teaches us about Rossini’s “Barber of Seville”:
Another Opera’s reference is again from Bugs Bunny: “What’s Opera, Doc” that borrows heavily from Richard Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” (Die Walküre):
In “Mickey The Sorcerer's Apprentice” from Fantasia, we don’t see an actual character playing, but we do hear Dukas’s homonymous symphonic poem accompanying magically images that could not better visualise it:
Image: Creative Commons