Thursday, January 08, 2009

Oh, well, cartoons.

I'm knitting a scarf while arguing with a three year old. The only thing of note is, this morning the Goober announced "I knitting a sweater." and then sat down with a pile of bead necklaces and two drum sticks and mooshed it all around. She's also pretended to spin before, holding yarn in the tips of her fingers. I think I have a fiber geek on my hands. (Yay!) With nothing else to report, I'm more than happy to sit here for three or ten hours and discuss classical music and cartoons.

Fantasia was the first of the, well, what I think of as 'interpretive toons'. Where they took classical music and illustrated it. And it was fricking brilliant, certainly, and I watch it even now. But it was all arty and stuff. Warner Brothers and Bugs Bunny, on the other hand, made classical music approachable and funny and witty. Which is better? Hard to say. I like both, but they're certainly two different schools of thought.

I'll put links to articles and YouTube video of the toons I'm talking about, wherever I can. I'd like to put the vids themselves in here but I don't think Blogger or my video card would put up with it. (I really need a new computer.)

(Proof reading this, later, I suspect this is half helpful information and half stream of consciousness on classical music and cartoons. Bear with me, we're screwing with my nerve damage meds again. This could be the history of Brussels Sprouts.)

So, Fantasia. It was made in 1940 and considered very long-hair and hoity-toity in some circles. But it was so cool nearly everyone watched it.

The biggie, the most famous sequence in the movie, is of course, The Sorcerer's Apprentice. (Kudos to whoever posted that in wide screen.)

Most people don't know, but it's based on a real piece of music called "The Sorcerer's Apprentice", but a guy named Paul Dukas, in 1897. Near as I can tell, without getting all anal and sitting down with the cartoon and some sheet music, the piece is used in it's entirety without screwing with it. Disney regularly hunted up what was then obscure classical music and made it famous; I doubt anyone but a few serious classical music fans had heard Sorcerer's Apprentice before Fantasia was made. After, well, I played it in concert in the 1980s and it was wildly successful and that was because of the cartoon (and the two maniac basoon players we had).

One reason I'm not a bigger fan of Fantasia is that they often got REALLY famous pieces, and some of us ALREADY had mental images for the songs and so even though theirs were all right, it was really jarring to the brain. The stuff from Nutcracker Suite is the worst, for me personally. I'm always like "Okay, this is cute, but WTF is up with those mushrooms? Were they DOING them?" Another bit that really messes with my head is Rhapsody in Blue from Fantasia 2000. (And while I'm on the subject, United Airlines needs tortured for what they did to Rhapsody in Blue in the nineties, using it as their goddamn theme and playing the main bit over and over and NEVER ADDING THE REST OF THE SONG. Yes, I flew United a lot in the nineties. Yes, it drove me insane.)

The other famous bit, of course, is the dancing hippos in "Dance of the Hours" by Amilcare Ponchielli - another case, I suspect, of Disney making some music more famous than it started out to be; I wonder who'd have to listen to Dance of the Hours in appreciation class, BEFORE Disney used it.

Personally, other than Socerer's Apprentice, which is a story, I find the whole movie interesting but soulless. My favorite of the pieces actually comes from Fantasia 2000, the decent sequel. It's flamingos flying in formation to "Carnival Overture" by Camille Saint-Saens. If you watch ONE cartoon from this whole post, watch this one. THIS is illustration of music. I just watched this again, finding the link, and laughed like a loon.

So, Disney and Fantasia. Brililant, of course, but a little obvious, if you ask me.

These guys were brilliant, in that they slipped in a whole crapload of classical without people really noticing. Then later you'd be sitting in music appreciation class going "Hey... I know that..."

Last night's entry, that started this, was "What's Opera, Doc?" available on Youtube, here. (The Goob just watched this with me; she was enthralled, and got the bigger plot bits -"Mumma, dat de bunny in a dwess.")

It is an unholy, hilarious mashup of Wagner's operas; the music has bits from all over. Tannhauser, the Ring cycle (a series of operas lasting, what is it? twelve, twenty hours? something insane), Siegfried, and the Flying Dutchman. There's so much packed in there that even with listening guides and people analyzing it, it's hard to figure out what all goes where. At any rate, they've permanently warped generations of people toward Wagner's music; we're supposed to be all intimidated and full of awe when Dutchman starts off, and instead, we're in the back, giggling because we're thinking of Elmer Fudd in a horned helmet. Chuck Jones (the director; brilliant man, passed on in 2002) once said that this was the entire Ring Cycle in seven minutes. I think I get my love of German opera entirely from this cartoon; the over-the-top high drama of them becomes fun instead of annoying, when viewed through the lens of Warner Brothers. I found out last night, while poking around on line looking at information, that "What's Opera, Doc?" is in the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress and is considered 'culturally significant'. Maybe they aren't total snobs over there at the LofC.

From German opera (dismal plots where everyone dies, massive orchestras, and overblown lyrics, orchestration, and arrangements), they went to Italian opera (the Broadway of its day) with "The Rabbit of Seville", available to watch, here.

This is a full playing of the overture to the Barber of Seville, an opera by Gioachino Rossini, with one quick break for a blast of the Wedding March by Felix Mendelssohn. They took out a couple repeats (I assume for timing issues) and fooled around a little with the instrumentation, but otherwise it's pretty much as Rossini wrote it. (I always wonder what Rossini would have said; from what I know of the man, he was a horrible snob and would have been annoyed.)

Then they took a little break, and Bugs tormented the opera singers themselves, in "Long Haired Hare".

The bit at the beginning that the singer is trying to rehearse is a bit from the Barber of Seville, also. There are several popular tunes of the day thrown in, played by Bugs, my personal favorite being "When Yuba Plays the Rumba on the Tuba". (Personal bias.) Then, at the concert, the singer's first piece is from an opera called "Lucia di Lammermoor" which I assume is an opera in-joke because that opera has a world famous 'mad scene' in it where the heroine goes insane. The Leopold that Bugs impersonates is Leopold Stokowski, famous conductor of, among other things, the New York Philharmonic, and the Fantasia soundtrack.

It suddenly occurs to me, how much information there is on this topic. If books haven't been written, they should be. A quick Google search turned up this summary, though it's far from complete. Wikipedia has amazing detail on these cartoons, but you have to look up each one, separately. I haven't found a master list. If I do, I'll pass it along.

One last WB cartoon. I love these things.

Rhapsody Rabbit. This is one where Bugs plays Franz Lizt's "Hungarian Rhapsody #2". There are some breaks with other music, but for the most part, it's Lizt. The same year, "The Cat Concerto" came out with Tom and Jerry doing nearly the same thing, with the same exact song. Warner Brothers and Hanna-Barbera sued each other for plagiarism, and the Tom and Jerry version won an Oscar. It's kind of fun to compare the two.

I'm not starting on Tom and Jerry and THEIR use of classical, or we'll be here all day. But they used it, too.

Anyway, you get the idea; there's amazing amounts of classical, including in-jokes, packed into cartoons we grew up watching.

Anyone want a suggested listening list, or do I need to shut the hell up, already?


Jake said...

because you made me check, I just totaled up the CDs and Der Ring is 15 hours 4 minutes and 16 seconds long (Das Rheingold is 155'10", Die Walükre is 234'08", Siegfried is 247'45", Götterdämmerung is 267'13"). and now I'm listening to it all again...

Emily said...

My mother taught me a theme from Beethoven's 3rd (I think) symphony, the Eroica, as "Dizzy Dean! has! re-turned! Dizzy Dean! has! re-turned! Dizzy Dean! Dizzy Dean! Dizzy Dean!..." (Dizzy Dean being a famous baseball player from her youth, I think.) Anyway, the first time I ever heard the piece was at Tanglewood, where I was a summer student; the Boston Sympnohy was rehearsing it, and...well, you can guess. Everyone stared at me.

Roz said...

You need to get the new book on Sesame Street called "Street Gang" -- that's another fantastic walk in the culture of our lives...

My word today is "diagra." I'm a girl. Should I be offended?

historicstitcher said...

Lovin' it! Please do post a listening list! And I'll be watching the cartoons with my son when we get home tonight (we're not allowed to stream at work).

And I can't listen to Beethoven's Fifth without hearing "A Fifth of Beethoven" that weird disco/punk version!

deirdre said...

Thank you - once again, your thoughtful insight has hit home with me - I am a lifelong, hard-core Warner Brothers fan, as are my sons (they couldn't really help it), and much of my early classical music "training" took place on Saturday mornings - as I grew, I was happy to find the actual pieces used in my favourite cartoons, but my preference is still to watch Bugs and Elmer perform them...

organizer2003 said...

as a brass player who has PLAYED most if not all of this, Chuck Jones' analysis of the Ring is as valid as any I've heard. And, yes, I LOVE the ring. I'll put it on to burble in the background.

Have you listened to Anna Russell? She does a FANTASTIC synopsis of the Ring cycle. and of G&S operas. and of classical music in general. GREAT woman. Hysterically funny, too.

Glad to find my peeps here.

Catie said...

I would love a "recommended listening list" if you have the time - my dad has always listened to a lot of classical music but I don't know what most of it is. Was the one where Bugs impersonated the conductor the one where he was trying to get rid of a bee? That was one of my favorite cartoons as a kid.

Goober is too young for it but there is a series of audio CDs with classical music in the background. I remember listening to Vivaldi's Ring of Mystery in elementary school. I didn't remember the name but Amazon helped out - it seems that there are several different ones too.

Amy Lane said...

Okay-- the guy I sat next to at my signing this fall was the guy who designed & animated the flamingos--and the same guy who helped with the design of Rhapsody in blue. It's funny that you love one and the other one bothers you, but I have to say that I LOVED the entirety of Fantasia 2000. (With the exception of Pines of Rome--I have to stay awake during that one or I sleep through the whole thing.)

Trivia: Did you know that Bugs Bunny's mannerisms with the carrots were taken in part from Clark Gable's in 'It Happened One Night'? I love watching old Warner Bros.--they are a time capsule of satire and pop-culture.

(And I'm pretty sure those Fantasia guys WERE doing Mushrooms. It's the only thing that can explain some of their choices.)

Leonie said...

See this is why I read your blog, the topics are completely unpredictable. Knitting, Goober, ancient history, food, music and the is a real treat. I am going to have to either download these streams or find DVD's of these cartoons and indoctrinate my kids!!! Thanks :-)

Galad said...

I always knew those cartoons were educational. Thanks so much for a a fascinating post.

NeedleTart said...

Please, a listening suggestion list. I was reading the People's Choice awards and realized that I had no idea what the most popular songs sound like. I listen to NPR or CDs and most of that classical (with the occasional Opera Singer doing Show Tunes thrown in).
What exactly were the bassons doing during the performace? Former band geeks want to know.

Alwen said...

Phyllis! I was just going to recommend Anna Russell's hilarious summation of the Ring Cycle. Now I'll have her pear-shaped "Remember the rinnnnng?" running through my head while I fall asleep.

Bugs Bunny also introduced me to Casablanca. heh.

Say, Julie, have I told you lately that you're fun? "history of Brussels sprouts," hah!

Allison said...

"I wonder who'd have to listen to Dance of the Hours in appreciation class, BEFORE Disney used it."

People of my generation who hadn't seen/heard of Fantasia yet found ourselves knowing the words to the song because of this:

Can't hear Wagner without singing "Kiiill the wabbit"....

Louiz said...

Don't forget Carmina Burana, O Fortuna (I think). Love to hear your take on that:)

And danse macabre (one of my fav pieces of classical music ever).

Anonymous said...

I thought it would be quick look at the blog and then on with the housework, but i have spent all day watching cartoons!!! Oh well..


Donna Lee said...

Chuck Jones was a genius. (Bugs Bunny is named for him by accident.) If you read his book Chuck Amuck there are some great stories about the early days of Warner bros.

Roxie said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

debsnm said...

Like most everyone else, I love "What's Opera, Doc?" "Kill the Wabbit" sends me into hysterics every time.