There’s video up at the Disney Parks blog of a scoring session for one of their new live shows at California Adventure in Anaheim. It’s a reworked version of “Night on the Bare Mountain” by Modest Mussorgsky, which was used for one of the segments in Fantasia. That piece has always fascinated me because of the dramatic difference between the circumstances in which it was written and the place it occupies now in our culture. The piece was reworked over and over again by Mussorgsky, and it was never played during his lifetime (in fact, the arrangement that is usually played in concert and in Fantasia was orchestrated by Rimsky-Korsakov). He is remembered only for “Night…” and Pictures at an Exhibition, and yet the music of this fairly minor and obscure Russian composer is heavily promoted by the Walt Disney Corporation, and people who have never gone to a classical music concert can hum its theme. It’s deeply tragic that the composer of one of the most widely recognized piece of classical music never heard it performed.
There are other examples of this. “A Lover’s Concerto” was a hit in 1965 for the girl group The Toys (it was later recorded by The Supremes); it’s a fairly literal translation of the Minuet in G Major from the Notebook for Anna Magdelena Bach. I was playing some Brahms, and one of my friends recognized the Violin Concerto from There Will Be Blood. I guess the strongest example is Also Sprach Zarathustra, used in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
On a more current front, Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus has blogged (in a post focusing on David Byrne and Los Angeles Opera’s staging of The Ring Cycle) about a Bach 12-tone phrased used as the opening of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” music video.