Whether you are watching a cartoon, advertisement or movie, many of the same classical pieces are used in the media. These tunes become familiar to many and are used to bring out emotions from listeners. Much of the classical music we hear is associated with moments of suspense, horror, romance and excitement. Classical music is incorporated into our everyday lives, though many do not take note of it. While remaining at home, people may consider listening to new music genres and learning the history behind them. Classical music has a rich history and offers the opportunity to dive into an earlier era. Here are five works that are frequently heard and often go unrecognized by the everyday listener.
“Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67: I. Allegro con brio” — Ludwig van Beethoven
Beethoven is a legendary composer known for countless works, and this year marks the 250th anniversary of his birth. His fifth symphony in C minor is particularly famous for its opening. The iconic four-note introduction to the piece is carried throughout the melody and acts as the rhythmical foreground for the piece. When Beethoven was asked the meaning behind the work, he responded saying, “Fate knocks at the door.” Some may say this knocking is heard within the four-note introduction. Beethoven’s fifth symphony is said to represent his life struggle and the many emotions he felt while losing his hearing. Beethoven began composing the symphony in 1804, though the composition was postponed and completed between 1807 and 1808. It made its world premiere in Vienna on December 22, 1808. By this time, Beethoven was nearly deaf and on the day of the premiere, the performers played in the bitter cold. Beethoven acted as both the pianist and conductor during the event. The orchestra played poorly, and after two hours, Beethoven had the ensemble start over and play from the beginning of the program.
“Der Hölle Rache” from “Die Zauberflöte” (“The Magic Flute”) — Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed “Der Hölle Rache” for his opera “Die Zauberflöte,” “The Magic Flute” in English, in 1791. “Die Zauberflöte” made its premiere at the Freihaus-Theater auf der Wieden in Vienna on September 30, 1791. The Queen of the Night’s Act II aria is iconic for its elaborate coloratura. This revenge aria is sung by the queen to her daughter, Pamina, and in this scene she hands her daughter a dagger and commands her to kill Sarastro. The allegorical opera has a loaded plot with numerous themes and highly developed characters. The aria stands out from the rest of the opera because it is sung in baroque style recitative. It has been recognized in advertisements as well as in movies like Amadeus. Mozart died two months after the premiere of the opera on Dec. 5, 1791, but left behind numerous masterful works for the world.
“Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G minor” — Johannes Brahms
This exciting song is recognized from cartoons and shorts such as “Pigs in a Polka,” released by Warner Bros in 1943. After meeting the famous Hungarian Gypsy violinist, Eduard Reményi, Brahms learned about Gypsy music, as well as Hungarian dances, and was inspired. The 21 dances were based on the czárdás, “Bartfai Emlék,” composed by Béla Kéler who was Hungarian himself. He took the rhythms and melodies learned and incorporated them into his 21 Hungarian Dances. The compositions were intended to be a piano duet. Though Hungarian Dance No. 5 is the most popular of Brahms’ Hungarian dances, the version that is frequently heard today is orchestrated by Martin Schmeling.
“L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” (“Habanera”) from “Carmen” — Georges Bizet
The song may be seen in popular Disney films such as Pixar’s “Up.” The song is often associated with the tango as the character Carmen sings the song of love. The French opera made its premiere in 1875 at the Opéra Comique in Paris. Bizet died believing the opera was a failure as the initial reviews surrounding the opera were negative. The opera is based on the 1845 novella, “Carmen,” by Prosper Mérimée. The scene portrays Carmen, a beautiful Gypsy, singing to the men of Seville who have congregated to watch the female workers. Carmen sings about how love is free and cannot be forced. This flirtatious song has been used in commercials like Pure XS by Paco Rabanne to advertise the fragrance. It continues to be associated with a song of love with its tuneful sound which promotes dance. In the movie “Bohemian Rhapsody,” released in 2019, Queen described their album “A Night at the Opera” and played the “Habanera” from “Carmen” while explaining their song to the EMI Executive, Ray Foster. The song “Bohemian Rhapsody” is mentioned as a rock song with elements of opera and the exciting aria from “Carmen” is played.
“Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Op. 46: IV. I Dovregubbens hall” (“In the Hall of the Mountain King”) — Edvard Grieg
This song is well known to many listeners and the music alone manages to tell a story. The piece was written for playwright Henrik Ibsen’s allegorical drama, “Peer Gynt,” in 1867. The song occurs in Act II of the play and begins with the main character, Peer Gynt, sneaking away from the Mountain King. As he tries to escape he is followed by the trolls, and eventually the trolls chase Gynt. This tiptoeing followed by chasing is heard in the music as the repeated tune gets faster and crescendos. This song has been featured in movies like “Trolls” and is heard in the opening scene as a remix within the song “Hair Up” by Justin Timberlake featuring Gwen Stefani and Ron Funches. Though the song is famous today, Grieg wrote in a letter that he despised the song. He said, “It absolutely reeks of cow pies, exaggerated Norwegian nationalism and trollish self-sufficiency!” The composition was finished in autumn of 1875, and the play premiered in the Mollergaden Theatre, Christiania on February 24, 1876. Edvard Grieg was the conductor for the premiere.