Bach and Lady Gaga: how and what did pop artists borrow from classical music

In the public mind, many musical styles almost contradict each other.

Appreciating some is synonymous with high intelligence and cultural sophistication; loving others is a sign of bad taste. Nevertheless, in music, as in many other areas of creativity (literature, visual arts, even cinema), styles and genres, sometimes even as dissimilar as possible, often borrow many tricks from each other - from general harmonic constructions to direct references to entire works .

Today we will begin to talk about borrowings in music (some, however, turn out to be real plagiarism, but from the listener's point of view this is no less interesting). Our first material is about what pop music owes to classical composers.


Photo Skley dennis CC

A bit of history


Many musical principles and well-established patterns that are used by modern pop singers, they are obliged to classical composers - the very ones that are often opposed to modern pop singers. In the 17-18 centuries, music in Europe, freed from the rule of the church, developed rapidly - new genres, forms and styles appeared. Bach has become one of the most virtuosic composers in all musical history. Mozart who came after him amazed with music that was completely different from Bach’s complex harmonic constructions - it (not always, but often) seems (exactly “seems”) to be easier to perceive.

Like Haydn and, for example, Gluck, in Mozart’s music the main steps of the fret are often taken as a basis: tonic, dominant and subdominant, and triads built from them. A lot of the classic ... rock and roll is written on the same principle. And most pop songs line up around the same harmonious chord sequences that became popular back in the late 18th century. Borrowing classical music may look different - modern performers and composers are inspired by a harmonious design, use a similar chord structure, or even make direct references.

We talk about several different cases of the existence of classical music in the popular.

I Can't Help Falling In Love With You by Elvis Presley and The Joy of Love by Martini


In 1784, composer Jean-Paul Ezhid Martini wrote the novel “Plaisir d'amour” (“Joy of Love”) to the verses of the French writer Jean-Pierre Clari de Florian. In 1858, Hector Berlioz made an arrangement for an orchestra. This romance has interested a wide variety of artists.

For example, Bridget Bardot ( audio ). Or Anita Carter ( audio ). This melody inspired Elvis Presley to create one of his most recognizable compositions:


Go West by Pet Shop Boys and Canon in D Major by Johann Pachelbel


“Canon in D Major” by Johann Pachelbel is the most famous work of the German composer for three violins and general bass. When he wrote this music, it is unknown - most likely, somewhere between 1680 and 1706. It is interesting that this composition, being quite popular at the time, quickly went out of fashion and was forgotten. In 1968, the arrangement of this tune was made by the Chamber Orchestra of Jean Francois Payillard, returning her popularity.

The canonical melodic construction became very popular in the 1970s: it was often used in instrumental arrangements, turned into pop music, and then even in compositions for funerals and weddings. Pachelbel used a strict polyphonic form, where three voices play the same melody (combined into a canon) and the fourth voice, the general bass, performs a separate theme - a constantly repeating push-pull line.

Here is the traditional baroque sound of the "Canon" of Pachelbel (on instruments of that era):


And here is the song Pet Shop Boys Go West, where there is the same chord sequence:


Alejandro Lady Gaga and Csárdás Vittorio Monti ...


Not all artists are inspired or “borrowed” ideas from the classics - some directly refer to them using a composition with minimal changes or even “as is”.

For example, Lady Gaga does this in the introduction to the song Alejandro, where she refers to the aristocracy of Italian violinist and composer Vittorio Monti - a composition based on traditional Hungarian dance music for violin and piano.

... Bad Romance Lady Gaga and Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier


Another interesting borrowing of Lady Gaga from the classics (and she actually has a lot of them) is the entry of the clavichord from the cycle of clavier compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach to Bad Romance.

... and I Can Nasa and Beethoven's "To Elise"


It would seem that rap and classical music could not be further apart. However, rapper Nas proved the opposite - he made a reference to Beethoven’s classic composition “To Elise”:


David Shire's Night On Disco Mountain and Mussorgsky's “Night on the Bald Mountain”


Sometimes musical borrowing solves ironic problems. For example, the arrangement of the symphonic poem by M. P. Mussorgsky “Night on the Bald Mountain” in the style of disco.

David Shire wrote this arrangement for the orchestra in 1977 for the cult movie with John Travolta Saturday Night Fever. Interestingly, the work of Mussorgsky remained almost untouched - Shire only changed the rhythm and added drums and guitars.

Borrowing from the classics is a rich topic. The question of how much music, once written by someone, really “belongs” to its author, existed even before the adoption of copyright laws. Composers constantly borrowed ideas from each other, from folk music and other compositions - we will tell about other similar cases in the following material.



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