Monday, April 25, 2011

All I Ever Really Needed to Know about Classical Music I Learned from TV and Movies

While heading out on a driving trip this weekend, my fiance and I thought it might be nice for a change of pace to listen to some classical music. In this misguided and clearly halfhearted attempt to feel more superficially cultured, I was surprised to find how many of the songs to which I could hum along with ease. When had I found the time to learn so many of these treasured pieces of classic music?

After reveling briefly in what I assumed must be my well-trained classical ear, I took a quick break from patting myself on the back to consider where exactly I had previously heard these tracks. Summer concerts in the park? Excursions to the community symphony? With all the reality TV watching and daytime napping that goes on at our place, these seemed to me like highly unlikely scenarios.

Suddenly, it occurred to me--childhood movies and TV! Of course. By mindlessly engaging in unspeakable amounts of passive entertainment as a child, I had accidentally gleaned a lifetime’s worth of classical music knowledge. Well, a lifetime for someone who knows nothing about classical music. But, I digress. I knew there must be others like me: others whose sole knowledge of classical music and opera stems from hours spent during our formative years parked in front of a glowing television screen.

This list is by no means comprehensive, nor is it completely exclusive to kids who grew up in the 90s. However, it is just pretty thorough for everything I could think of in a single sitting. As always, feel free to add your own favorites or bash my glaring omissions in the comments section.

Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King--Inspector Gadget Theme Song

Film nerds (and, let’s face it, regular nerds, too) may also recognize this music from its presence in last year’s acclaimed movie The Social Network. “In the Hall of the Mountain King” served as the basis for the music playing during crew rowing montage. While others left the film pondering the larger implications of social networking in our increasingly technological world, I was far more concerned with why the team was rowing frantically to the theme song from Inspector Gadget.

Lizst’s Hungarian Rhapsody Number 2--Donald and Daffy Duck in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Now that I think about it, “Hungarian Rhapsody Number 2” has a more musical ring to it than “that dueling piano song played by popular cartoon ducks in a combo live-action/cartoon feature film.” I doubt that was Lizst’s runner-up title, yet it’s all I’ve ever known this piece to be.

Mouret’s Rondeau--Intro to Sesame Street’s Monsterpiece Theater

Some might argue it is also the theme to PBS’s Masterpiece Theater, but these regular installments of the Sesame Street versions are probably more memorable to those of who were children when it aired. Sesame Street does a lot of parodies that I can only assume are more for the benefit of parents forced to watch along. Just in case the children have a sliver of a chance of catching a reference, though, the parodies are always very literal--like in this case, creating an intro that looks almost exactly like the real Masterpiece Theater.

Largo al Factotum from Barber of Seville--Mrs. Doubtfire

The opening scene of Mrs. Doubtfire captures Robin Williams’ voice talents and general craziness in a focused way: by allowing him to fittingly channel his cartoonishness into an actual cartoon. Williams provides the semi ad-libbed voice-over for the animated footage, beginning with the well-known “Largo al Factotum” (many of us think of it as the Figaro song) from Barber of Seville. His operatics leave something to be desired, but he makes up for it with enthusiasm.

Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever--”Be Kind to your Web-Footed Friends” as seen here in Wee Sing in Sillyville

Most of us are familiar with Stars and Stripes Forever on its own, but the second version it has the added bonus of hosting alternate, nonsensical kid-friendly lyrics. Those of you who were fans of the Wee Sing series may recognize the above clip from Purple Sillyville resident Pasha’s home.

If you have no idea what this means, I suggest you watch Wee Sing in Sillyville immediately. I would love to say you won’t regret it, but that’s not a lie I’m willing to put in writing. Let me say instead you might regret it, but if you can sit through the above clip, you could probably manage to sit through the full 58 vaguely racially-conscious minutes.

Tchaicovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies--Original Tetris Music Number 1

This one is more popular on a mainstream level, so it’s safer to venture some readers may also recognize “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” from a family Christmas outing to see the Nutcracker ballet or at least a viewing or two of Disney’s 1940 hit Fantasia. However, if for some reason you managed to not encounter it in one of those areas, you probably know it as Music 1 from the NES version of Tetris.

Verdi’s Anvil Chorus--Tiny Toon Adventures

If the title alone doesn’t ring any bells, try watching the video to jog your latent Tiny Toon memories. The second I saw an anvil make hilarious yet undoubtedly painful contact with a cartoon child audience member, it all came back to me.

And for our cross-generational readers, you may also enjoy:

Barber of Seville--The Bunny of Seville

Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours--Fantasia’s Dancing Animals (Or, for the less cultured and summer camp joke-prone, Alan Sherman’s “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah”)

Cross generational runners-up: Rossini’s William Tell Overture (Lone Ranger Theme), Dukas’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Disney’s original Fantasia), and Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries (Looney Tunes’ “What’s Opera, Doc?”)


Eeyore_fan said...

Oh my goodness, Wee Sing in Sillyville....I totally remember that and watched it a lot when I was young. :)

Kari said...


Wee Sing in Sillyville was the only Wee Sing I ever watched/owned. And I definitely did an excellent rendition the Red Bittybooties' "Risseldy Rosseldy" for my 1st grade talent show.

Jennifer M. said...

I can not listen to that one song to this day without shouting out, "Hey! It's the Tetris song!!" Lol. Even though I know it's from the Nutcracker... which I've seen... both in person and on tv... to me, it will forever be the Tetris song. Love that game. ;)

There are so many classical songs that, when I hear them, I instantly think of old Looney Tunes cartoons. Like, characters skating around on ice skates and such. If it weren't for Looney Tunes, I wouldn't know half of the classical music I know.

Janna said...

I had most of the Wee Sing videos and loved them all, but Sillyville was definitely the best! Closely followed by The Big Rock Candy Mountain...

Eeyore_fan said...

@Janna: I loved The Big Rock Candy Mountain one, too! :)

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