5 Modern Songs Directly Inspired by Classical Music

Hi and welcome to today’s episode of PianoTV, where we’re going to look at 5 modern songs that were directly inspired by Classical music.

Some of these songs are a bit of a stretch, while others are overt inspirations. In this video we’re going to have fun, listen through some examples and try to spot the similarities.

Musicians (and artists in general) have been borrowing from each other since the beginning of time. I hope you’ll enjoy this list – maybe it’ll give you a deeper appreciation of one of your favorite modern (or Classical) songs.

Let’s get started!

Star Wars

John Williams is a brilliant composer, bringing us not only the music from Star Wars but also pretty much everything Steven Spielberg has ever made (Indiana Jones, ET, Jurassic Park), as well as music to Harry Potter, Schindler’s List, and most movies you’ve watched.

In fact, I think it would be great to do a video on John Williams – give this video a like if that’s something you’d like to see!

Star Wars is full of memorable music – not only the theme, but tunes like Imperial March, The Desert, Parade of the Ewoks, and more.

Much of the music from Star Wars has its roots in Classical music. My favorite example is “Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)”.

When you listen to Gustav Holst’s Mars (from “The Planets”), you’ll notice some similarities. We have an intense march beat consistent in both compositions, and a dramatic, loud and tense mood.The subtitle  of Mars is “The Bringer of War”, so that’s a fitting inspiration for Darth Vader’s Theme.

Let’s listen to an excerpt from Mars first (after the minute-long introduction), and then a clip of Imperial March.

Be sure to check out this NYTimes article for more Star Wars/Classical music goodness.

Inspector Gadget

Kids from my generation (and parents of kids from my generation) will be familiar with the Inspector Gadget theme song. Not only is this just a fantastic composition by Shuki Levy, it’s very heavily inspired by Grieg’s Hall of the Mountain King.

Grieg’s Hall of the Mountain King is a very well-known composition part of the Peer Gynt Suite, composed in 1875. You’ll recognize it right away. Let’s take a listen to Mountain King and follow it up with Inspector Gadget – you’ll be able to hear the similarities in the melody and harmony instantly.

Radiohead – Exit Music For a Film

Those of you who know me will know that Radiohead is one of my all-time favorite bands. I think it’s really cool that one of their songs might have been inspired by one of my all-time favorite composers, Chopin.

“Exit Music (For a Film)” was written for the movie Romeo + Juliet and also appeared on the iconic album OK Computer. It’s very haunting and with the exception of one big moment toward the end, the mood is quiet and somber.

This is said to be influenced by Chopin’s Prelude op. 28 no. 4 – now take this with a grain of salt, because I couldn’t find anything confirming this one way or the other. Here are the similarities:

  • The opening melody of the prelude and Radiohead’s verse bear resemblance
  • The overall minor-key mood with one big peak moment
  • They both have a repeated rhythmic motif – the rhythm guitar pattern in Exit Music and left-hand chord pattern in Prelude


It’s a bit of a stretch to compare them beyond that, but have a listen – the atmosphere is similar between the two.

I also want to mention that way back in 2008, Jack Conte did a mash-up recording of the two pieces, which maybe makes it even more apparent how well-suited the pieces are to each other in temperament:

We’ve also talked about these preludes in-depth on PianoTV if you’d like to dig into them a little bit more.

The Beatles – Because

John Lennon and Paul McCartney were known to be influenced by Classical music in a variety of their songs, but one I want to bring up in today’s video is John Lennon’s Because.

According to John, Yoko Ono was jamming Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on the piano and he asked her to stop and play the same chords, but backward. That then served as the inspiration for Because.

 

You can hear a similar chord progression when we listen through both back-to-back (first Moonlight, then Because) – and a key similarity is that they’re both written in C-sharp minor. John took his inspiration very directly here.

Muse – Space Dementia

Another band known to experiment with Classical music is Muse. There are several examples I could share with you, but the one we’re going to look at today is called Space Dementia.

Space Dementia uses the chord progression and rapid arpeggiated figures from Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor. This is a direct and fairly obvious bit of inspiration – one of the most direct on this entire list (save maybe for Inspector Gadget).

Have a listen to the two side-by-side, starting with Rachmaninoff, and see if you can hear the similarities.

We’ve also done a closer look of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 on this channel if you’d like to explore that piece more deeply.

Conclusion

Those are five examples of modern songs directly inspired by Classical music – examples that I personally really enjoyed. There are countless more, of course.

Let me know in the comments if there are any songs you enjoy that have Classical music roots! Thanks for watching today’s video and I’ll catch you in the next one.

-Allysia

 

 

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