I grew up watching Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, and Popeye cartoons, because they were regularly shown on the independent stations here in St. Louis. (Disney cartoons weren’t readily available unless the Sunday night Wonderful World of Disney show featured one of them.) Those cartoons helped develop my love of classical music. (Sorry, Mom. You were a huge musical influence, but not quite as much as Bugs Bunny!) While the vast majority of the cartoons of the 1930s-1950s made excellent use of popular music and original compositions, they also used classical music to great effect, creating some of the finest animated masterpieces of all time.
Rossini’s overtures were popular with cartoonists, as were Liszt’s Hungarian rhapsodies and Brahms’ Hungarian dances. In cartoon-land, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata became synonymous with quiet, moonlit scenes, while the opening notes to his Fifth Symphony were used to introduce Nazis during World War II. The final movement of Liszt’s Les Preludes frequently introduced some cartoons. Any favorites you’d add to this list? Enjoy!
Music: Rossini’s William Tell Overture
Made before the William Tell Overture became identified as The Lone Ranger’s theme, The Band Concert features bandleader Mickey leading an outdoor performance. While the band plows through the overture, Donald Duck continually interrupts by playing “Turkey in the Straw” on his recorder.
Music: Brahms’ Hungarian Dances #5, 7, 6 and 17 (they appear in that order)
The familiar story of the three little pigs was a popular vehicle for cartoonists. This Warner Bros. version cleverly syncs the action with Brahms’ music, so much so that the music seems like a fifth character.
Music: Von Suppe’s A Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna
Bugs is the conductor of a musician-less orchestra. He performs Von Suppe’s “Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna, ” but with a twist: He turns part of it into a cowboys and Indians saga, using his ears as props.
Music: Largo al factotum aria from Rossini’s Barber of Seville opera
This famous aria was never showcased better in a cartoon than in this Tex Avery romp (although Long-Haired Hare comes close). After a two-bit magician fails to convince Poochini, the “world’s greatest baritone, ” to let him into the opera singer’s act, the magician uses his wand to make life quite difficult for Poochini. It’s one of Avery’s absolute best. It’s often cut these days because of some unfortunate racial stereotypes, but you can still find the uncut original. Note: Watch for the fantastic bit where Poochini “breaks the fourth wall” and plucks a hair from the “film.”
Tom and Jerry in the Hollywood Bowl
Music: Johann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus
Tom is the conductor of an orchestra of cats. Naturally, Jerry wants in on the act, and of course, Tom repeatedly shoes him away. Excellent choreography in this one. And both Tom and Jerry look pretty sharp in those tuxes.
Music: Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto #1, Strauss’ Tales from the Vienna Woods and The Blue Danube
Warner Bros. frequently poked fun at Disney, especially considering many animators migrated from Disney to Warner Bros. (and MGM). A Corny Concerto rips on Disney’s Fantasia (see #2), starting with Elmer appearing as an unshaven Stokowski introducing the two segments. The first segment is a wild romp in the Vienna woods with Bugs, Porky and an unnamed dog. The second is more standard fare of a duck protecting a family of swans from a vulture.
My introduction into classical music
My introduction into this lifelong love affair with classical music was through cartoons. When my family first immigrated to Canada, I couldn't speak english so I watched cartoons all the time. The looney tunes cartoons, some smurfs and disney occupied a lot of my childhood. When my mom took me to a public library a few years later and took some records home, imagine my surprise! I could listen to the music independent of the cartoons!
To this day I still see the duet between Bugs and Elmer when I listen to the Barber of Seville in my mind and Elmer dressed up in viking costume singing "Kill da Wabbit, Kill da Wabbit!" to Wagner's ride of the valkyries