Classical cliches
February 19, 2006 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Name some ubiquitous classical music for me, please.

There are some pieces of classical music which have become almost cliches of the genre because of their popularity and continued ubiquitous use in film and TV. For example, there is Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, often used as a leitmotif for posh, stately, aristocratic characters and scenes, Orff's O Fortuna, usually used in horror films, and Pachelbel's Canon in D Major, used absolutely everywhere...

These are songs which probably 99% of the population has heard, but most couldn't name. At least, I'm sure that's true for me, as there are lots of other tunes like this which I can hum, but can't track down.

Can you name some of these classical cliches? And perhaps mention where they are used, or if there's a particular use that has propelled them to fame? Thanks!
posted by hoverboards don't work on water to Media & Arts (44 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee
Rossini's William Tell Overture
posted by iconomy at 11:03 AM on February 19, 2006

Beethoven's Fifth is probably the prime example of this. It's used everywhere. The Wedding March from Wagner's Lohengren is your traditional "Here Comes the Bride" music, and the Wedding March from Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream is the other wedding march everyone recognizes.

Schubert's song Ave Maria is quite frequently used in movies and TV shows to convey a spiritual, reverent feeling. Bach's chorale melody Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring is often used for the same effect.
posted by agropyron at 11:05 AM on February 19, 2006

Beathoven's Fur Elise, 9th Symphony, and Midnight Sonata.

Carlos Gardel - Por Una Cabeza (cliche Tango).

Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake and 1812 Overture.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 11:06 AM on February 19, 2006

Another approach: Sites that let you search for the music from specific movies by name.
posted by mediareport at 11:13 AM on February 19, 2006

The Dies Irae from Verdi's Requiem gets used a lot, as does music from Mozart's Requiem.

Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 is often used to give an intellectual, sophisticated feel.

Elgar's Pomp And Circumstance march is the usual graduation march.

All four movements (but especially the first) of Mozart's symphony No. 40 in G Minor are used in dramatic, dark sequences. I saw it used in a battle sequence on the History Channel once.

Richard Strauss's Thus Spake Zarathustra is
the famous music from 2001.
posted by agropyron at 11:13 AM on February 19, 2006

Bach's Toccata and Fugue in d minor
Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto 2, 2nd movement
Rossini's Barber of Seville
Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man
Elgar's Pomp and Circumstances March 1
Petzold's Minuet in G (orginally thought as Bach's)
Ravel's Bolero
Strauss' Blue Danube waltz
Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries
posted by Gyan at 11:15 AM on February 19, 2006

Wagner's The Valkyrie as seen in Apocalypse Now.

Marriage of Fiagro overture.
posted by fixedgear at 11:15 AM on February 19, 2006

Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, for anything scary... or for selling beer. (20th century, so it might not be what you're looking for.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:16 AM on February 19, 2006

Best answer: Love theme from Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet - standard "falling in love" music.

Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra - famous for its use in 2001 but often used since to indicate that something really awesome is happening

Opening of "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" by Bach, used to convey a sinister atmosphere.

Ride of the Valkyries by Wagner - famously used in Apocalypse Now, used often in references to the scene with all the choppers

Largo al Factotum from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia - used all over the place as a standard bit of male opera singing "Figaro! Figaro! Figaro!"... the other extremely common opera cliches is "La Donna e Mobile".

"Swan Lake" is probably the most well known ballet and often used in comedy sketches about unlikely ballerinas and the like

Not a classical cliche but the beginning plinkety-plinkety bit of "Dead Already" from "American Beauty" is used in a staggering number of UK TV shows and commercials. It's unescapable.
posted by teleskiving at 11:17 AM on February 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

But many of these, including some of mine, aren't cliches. They are just most likely among the canon, to be known by the uninitiated, but very few have the absolute popularity that you seek.
posted by Gyan at 11:18 AM on February 19, 2006

Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.
posted by interrobang at 11:19 AM on February 19, 2006

I forgot

Vivaldi's Four Seasons
The British Airways' version of an aria from Leo Delibes's Lakme
posted by Gyan at 11:26 AM on February 19, 2006

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Classical Music was my first classical album. You would probably find you know every song on it. (Or, maybe all but one or two.)

Interestingly enough, you probably know a lot more classical music than you think if you watched Loony Tunes.

To list (most of) them off:
Pachelbel - Canon
Vivaldi - Four Seasons (Spring)
Bach - Toccata in D Minor
Handel - Water Music
Mozart - Eine kleine Nachtmusik
Beethoven - Symphony #5, movement 1
Rossini - William Tell Overture
Grieg - "Peer Gynt" Morning (Hall of the Mountain King, while not on this album, is also pretty ubiquitous)
Debussy - Clair de Lune
Waldteufel - The Skaters (waltz)
Tchaikovsky - 1812 Overture.
posted by JMOZ at 11:37 AM on February 19, 2006

I like this game...

Hallelujah Chorus - Handel, you know this one

Zadok the Priest - standard dramatic music for people who are bored with Carmina Burana

Trois Gymnopedies by Erik Satie - for "haunting piano music"

Nobody has mentioned Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" yet I think... more mood-setting piano music

"Water Music" by Handel, when someone wants an upbeat piece to represent "classical music"
posted by teleskiving at 11:40 AM on February 19, 2006

Debussy: Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune - The pastoral nature "waking up" morning music.
This song bugged me for ages.
posted by ktrey at 11:41 AM on February 19, 2006

'O Mio Babino Caro', from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi. Think perfume commercials, etc.

The 'Anvil Chorus', from Verdi's Il Trovatore. Sells everything from phone directories to pasta sauce.

Liszt's 'Hungarian Rhapsody'--you can just see cartoon characters tiptoeing up and down staircases.
posted by gimonca at 11:42 AM on February 19, 2006

vivaldi's four seasons
carl orff's "o fortuna" from carmina burana ... sean hannity and quite a few others have been using this
mozart's piano sonata no 1, raymond scott's interpretation has turned up all over the place
beethoven's fur elise
toccata and fugue in d minor by bach ... often used as a "horror movie" soundtrack
samuel barber's adagio for strings ... associated with funerals
there's another symphonic excerpt from a russian romantic composer that ends up being used in a lot of romantic scenes, but i can't figure out the name of the composer
posted by pyramid termite at 11:43 AM on February 19, 2006

Khachaturian: Sabre Dance.
Up there with Raymond Scott's Powerhouse as frantic "factory" music.
posted by ktrey at 11:44 AM on February 19, 2006

Anvil Chorus from "Il Trovatore" - very popular rousing tune, I think I have heard it a few times used over images of Italy (despite the fact that the opera is about Spain).

Triumphal March from Aida - very popular piece of music, used especially over images of Egypt.

It seems that nobody has created a web site devoted to this stuff (in terms of general cliches rather than specific films) - surprising?
posted by teleskiving at 11:49 AM on February 19, 2006

The Pilgrim's Chorus from Wagner's Tannhäuser is used a lot. Sometimes it's used as background music behind Nazi march footage in cheap documentaries, which is kind of unfortunate--the original context of the music isn't militaristic at all.
posted by gimonca at 11:50 AM on February 19, 2006

A Bulgarian traditional, Polegnala e Tudora, is often used in commercials and films -- illustrating sunrise, quiet beauty, etc.
posted by cior at 11:53 AM on February 19, 2006

And it doesn't seem like anyone's mentioned the orgasmic climax to Wagner's Tristan und Isolde yet. Among millions of other places, used in the Monty Python 'milkman' sketch.
posted by gimonca at 11:55 AM on February 19, 2006

Poulenc's Organ Concerto is the frankly terrifying organ music that people use when the Toccata and Fugue isn't quite enough.
posted by Grangousier at 11:56 AM on February 19, 2006

Eine kleine nachtmusik is pretty ubiquitous for those learning to play a (classical) instrument. Its sampled/mirrored quite a bit in just about every genre of music.
posted by devilsbrigade at 12:15 PM on February 19, 2006

Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, heard on ads for United Airlines.

(Is this the kind of thing you're talking about?)
posted by lambchop1 at 12:24 PM on February 19, 2006

The Wedding March from Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream is so engrained in our consciousness that people forget it had to come from somewhere.

Karl Jenkins managed the amazing feat of writing an instant cliche in his concerto grosso-style "Diamond Music" used in the deBeers commercials.

But if I asked a random person in the street to hum a bar of classical music and banned Beethoven's 5th and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, then I might expect to hear either the first theme from Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 16 (think Granny's music, in the tweety bird cartoons) or the first theme from Beethoven's quartet, Op. 18 No. 1
posted by Wolfdog at 12:32 PM on February 19, 2006

Wagner's The Valkyrie as seen in Apocalypse Now.

Don't forget "Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit!"

All I know about classical music I learned from this man.
posted by Robot Johnny at 12:39 PM on February 19, 2006

Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite is inseparable from the Christmas season for me.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 1:03 PM on February 19, 2006

Gustav Holst's  The Planets
posted by holloway at 2:09 PM on February 19, 2006

The Habenera from Bizet's Carmen
posted by mr_roboto at 2:39 PM on February 19, 2006

Elgar's "Peer Gynt Suite" has been a source for a lot of this kind of stuff, including "Morning Mood" ("waking up music") and "Hall of the Mountain King". See All Music Guide for more.
posted by rossination at 2:51 PM on February 19, 2006

2nd movement of Beethovens 7th for the goth funeral dirge / good character succombing to the dark side music.

Prokofiev's Lt. Kije for the sleigh- or any ride through the snow.

Climax from Hector Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique when the main character is cracking up.

Graduation: Elgar's Pomp & Circumstance #1 (but all five are great if you can get into their mood -- #4 was heard briefly in "A Clockwork Orange" when Alex is transferred from the prison to the hospital).

End of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture for triumphant cannons blasting and the army pouring through the smashed fortress walls.

The Storm: Rossini's William Tell Overture (before the Lone Ranger ending). Also Beethiven's 6th.
posted by Rash at 3:00 PM on February 19, 2006

And when Holst's The Planets is sampled it's usually just Mars, the Bringer of War, perfect for armies on the march music. Another good soundtrack for that is in Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky.

And on an entirely different note, Brahm's Lullaby for baby falling asleep.

One thing about Pomp and Circumstance and graduation -- I'd bet that's a strictly American connotation. The British know it a national anthem, "Land of Hope and Glory."
posted by Rash at 3:24 PM on February 19, 2006

And for the seduction, Ravel's Bolero, made popular in Dudley Moore's "10" (just as "2001" made Strauss' Blue Danube waltz the cliche for spaceships in flight).
posted by Rash at 3:32 PM on February 19, 2006

Mozart's Rondo Alla Turca from Sonata No. 9 was the theme to an old TI-99A game called Jawbreaker, and I still hear it pretty often.
posted by solotoro at 4:58 PM on February 19, 2006

- Romp-through-countryside-with-flowers-in-soft-focus music: Andante from Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 ("Elvira Madigan")
- Unavoidable tango music: "Por una cabeza" by Carlos Gardel ("Scent of a Woman," "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," "True Lies," etc. etc.)
- Almost unbearably tender, bittersweet music: "Soave sia il vento," trio from Mozart's Così fan tutte ("Sunday, Bloody Sunday," Mercedes Benz advertising)
posted by rob511 at 6:34 PM on February 19, 2006

Weddings: Widor's Toccata
posted by matthewr at 6:50 PM on February 19, 2006

Enno Morricone's soundtrack for The Mission. Heard it during a figure skating routine the other day.
posted by neuron at 7:22 PM on February 19, 2006

Copland's Hoe Down from Rodeo is still known as the song from the "Beef-its what's for dinner" commercials from the early 90s. In addition, the Shaker song Simple Gifts became famous because of Copland's arrangement of it.

Incidentally, when you read through this thread and fondly reflect on how cool all these pieces are, remember that the reason they were used in cartoons, video games, and movies is because they entered the public domain. The current 95 year term on copyrights will make it much more difficult for music written today to become ubiquitous to our grandchildren.
posted by gsteff at 8:01 PM on February 19, 2006

Orff's "O Fortuna" (especially) has become quite popular for the action movie trailer, of course. But I've long thought that other sections of the Carmina Burana are pretty clearly the source of a lot of incidental TV music, chiefly from the 1960s. All sorts of little cues in, say, Star Trek episodes seem to evoke the CB when I'm listening to them.

Fortunately, I think this went away a long time ago, but I think there's a longstanding cultural memory that helps devalue the CB.
posted by dhartung at 9:50 PM on February 19, 2006

Most of Dvorak's Symphony #9 "From the new world" is on fiarly heavy rotation for denoting "America" or "Wholesome values", etc.

and staying with the Czechs Smetena's "Má Vlast" - main theme - comes up a lot when it comes to denoting water or rivers.

Finally - not really classical but huge on the over-used music we have Michael Nyman's theme from The Piano and almost anything from Thomas Newman's score for American Beauty.
posted by rongorongo at 4:13 AM on February 20, 2006

If you ever hear 15 seconds of solo cello music it will be the beginning of Bach's first Suite for Cello.
posted by dfan at 6:41 AM on February 20, 2006

Two more:

If the line of French girls is dancing like Rockettes, kicking up their legs & showing off their knickers, the music is Jacques Offenbach's Can-Can; and as discussed previously the circus clown music is The Entrance of the Gladiators.
posted by Rash at 5:01 PM on February 20, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks everybody, this is exactly what I was after! There are lots and lots of brilliant answers here. I thought the thread could use at least one marked as best, even though most of them probably deserve it.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 5:09 AM on February 21, 2006

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