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Movies and Pop Songs Draw Deep from the Wells of Classical Music

Classical Music Feeds Film Scores & Pop Songs - DaveMuskett
Far from being an exclusive, elitist world, classical music is a rich source of inspiration for movie soundtracks, TV commercials and popular songs.

A broad definition of classical music is: ‘Western and European art music created 1600-1900, and music created after 1900 that follows the style and tradition and is created for the sake of music itself – not as song melody nor movie score’.

Reusing old tunes is widespread; nothing is sacred in pop music or Hollywood. 1965’s Seekers’ hit The Carnival Is Over by Tom Springfield, used the melody of a Russian folk song Stenka Razin, though some hear Berlioz too. O solo mio, an 1898 Napolitan tune, found its way into opera, TV commercials and films and is in It’s Now or Never, Elvis Presley’s 1960’s hit.

Classical Music Feeds Movie Soundtracks

Some film/TV music is specially written, from sci-fi (Jerry Goldsmith: Star Trek, Alien, Twilight Zone Movie, Total Recall, Capricorn One and John Williams: Star Wars), to Westerns (Ennio Morricone: The Good , The Bad & The Ugly; Once Upon a Time in The West, A Fistful of Dynamite).

Classical music often appears directly in movies. Expert Aaron Green describes the most popular: Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana (O Fortuna), in Cheaper By the Dozen, Natural Born Killers, Excalibur and The Bachelor, British TV’s The X Factor and Puff Daddy’s 1999 song, Hate Me Now; and Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C-sharp minor (1946 cartoon Rhapsody Rabbit; Shine, Delirious and Who Framed Roger Rabbit).

Delibes’ The Flower Duet (coloratura soprano & mezzo-soprano) starred in British Airways’ TV 1980s campaign and in: The American President, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life and Meet the Parents. Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, jazz/classical fusion, found its way into Fantasia 2000 and Manhattan, while Dies Irae from Verdi’s Requiem was in Battle Royale and Water Drops on Burning Rocks. Mozart’s Dies Irae featured in X-Men 2, Duplex and The Incredibles DVD.

Puccini’s Nessun Dorma became a football anthem, marketing hallmark of The Three Tenors (Pavarotti, Domingo, Carreras) and in movies Man on Fire, Bend It Like Beckham and Chasing Liberty. The Funeral March from Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, which Green lauded: ‘Its ethereal melodic line gives listeners chills’, was in Mr. Holland’s Opus, Immortal Beloved, and Cowards Bend the Knee.

Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries embellished Apocalypse Now, The Blues Brothers, and Full Metal Jacket. Grieg’s ‘Morning” from Peer Gynt was in Raising Cain and Soylent Green. The opening sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey used Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra dramatically as the apes discovered bones as weapons. The Godfather Part III had Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana; A Clockwork Orange took Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance and JFK utilised Mozart’s Horn Concerto.

Pop Songs’ Raw Material

Classical music’s melodic structures used/reworked to create pop songs, can be controversial. In 1955, Tony Bennett’s Stranger in Paradise came from Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances, although covered by others; 1956 saw The Platters’ My Prayer from Boulanger’s Avant de Mourir, and in 1958, Perry Como hit with Catch a Falling Star, from Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture.

Petula Clark charted in 1961 with Romeo, from Salome by Austrian composer Robert Stolz. Martini’s Plaisir d’Amour provided Presley’s 1962 Can’t Help Falling in Love with later versions by Andy Williams (1970), Lick the Tins (1986), UB40 (1993). Nut Rocker (1962) by B Bumble & the Stingers was straight from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. Rondo from Kenny Ball & His Jazzmen (1963) came from Mozart’s Rondo.

Ken Dodd hit with 1964’s So Deep is the Night, from Chopin’s Etude in E; 1965 with Tears, from Saint-Saens, and again in 1966 with More Than Love from Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata. Julie Rogers charted The Wedding in 1964, straight from Schubert’s Ave Maria; The Mindbenders (1966), Phil Collins (1988) with A Groovy Kind of Love, from Clementi.

Procul Harum’s 1967 A Whiter Shade of Pale borrowed from JS Bach; The Move’s Night of Fear took Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture; in 1968 Pachelbel’s Canon in D informed Aphrodite’s Child in Rain and Tears and later My Chemical Romance (Welcome to the Black Parade, 2006). Sabre Dance by Love Sculpture directly lifted Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance.

In 1972 Neil Diamond charted Song Sung Blue, from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 21 (also in the movie Elvira Madigan); Steeleye Span’s Gaudete was from an anonymous piece written in 1582; Manfred Mann’s Earth Band 1973’s Joybringer came from Holst’s Planets (Jupiter); while Beethoven’s 5th Symphony gave Electric Light Orchestra their 1973 Roll Over Beethoven.

Annie’s Song by John Denver (1974) took from Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony; The Wombles used Mozart’s Symphony No 41 in Minuetto Allegretto; Greg Lake’s 1975 seasonal offering I Believe in Father Christmas arose from Prokofiev; Mike Oldfield’s In Dulci Jubilo (1975) came from a German tune of 1570, later used by Bach himself.

Eric Carmen (All By Myself, 1976; and Celine Dion 1996) used Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 2; Barry Manilow (Could It Be Magic, 1978; and Take That, 1992) used Chopin’s Prelude in C minor; Iris Williams (He Was Beautiful, 1979) took Myers’ Cavatina (also used in the movie The Deer Hunter); the Beach Boys (Lady Lynda,1979) used chord progressions from Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.

An example of multi-use/recycling is If I Had You by the Korgis (1979), based on Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody, based on a Paganini theme, Caprice, used by Andrew Lloyd Webber in Variations, theme tune for Britain’s long-running TV arts programme, South Bank Show. The opening of Billy Joel’s 1983 hit Uptown Girl was strikingly similar to the start of Ravel’s Bolero.

Punk-rock-manager-svengali Malcolm McLaren sampled extracts of opera with pop-rock with Madam Butterfly (1983) and Johann Strauss in House of the Blue Danube (1989). Sting took instrumental breaks in Russians (1985) from Prokofiev. I Vow to Thee My Country came from Holst’s Planets (Jupiter), which in turn produced Kiri Te Kanawa’s World in Union (1991).

A technique often used is changing the original 3/4 time to 4/4, more suited to pop song beat, such as Janet Jackson’s Someone to Call My Lover taken from Gymnopedie No 1 by Erik Satie, and Lover’s Concerto, (The Toys, 1965) based on melody from Bach’s Minuet in G major.

Using past classics and melodies out of copyright, continues to be controversial, but lucrative.

First published on Suite 101, 22 September 2010.

Photo: Classical Music Feeds Film Scores & Pop Songs – DaveMuskett

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