Classical Masterpieces Turn Up in Cartoons

Hollywood Bowl

hide captionThe Los Angeles Philharmonic performs at the Hollywood Bowl as the cartoon "Baton Bunny" plays overhead.

Courtesy of the Eleventh Earl of Mar

Cartoons made in the 1940s and '50s featured characters like Bugs Bunny, Woody Woodpecker and Elmer Fudd pretending to play significant operatic and symphonic works or feuding with their sworn enemies to the tune of epic masterpieces. Many children became familiar with classical music through these cartoons. Music historian Robert Greenberg talks about how that came to be and discusses the impact of cartoons on classical music.

Bugs Bunny was quite the concert musician. In "Rhapsody Rabbit," he attempted to perform Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2" despite a coughing audience member (whom Bugs shoots), a ringing telephone and a bothersome mouse. He conducted an orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl in "Long-Haired Hare."

The animated films Fantasia and The Sorcerer's Apprentice featured many different musical works. Fantasia, from 1940, featured music from Mussorgsky and Schubert. The film marked an attempt to create an "integrated" art form — what Wagner called Gesamtkunstwerke, a virtual reality that combined music and animation and virtually no dialogue. The music was recorded under the direction of Leopold Stokowski, with seven numbers performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra. The Sorcerer's Apprentice was originally a stand alone film based on a story by Goethe and the music of Paul Dukas. At Stokowski's suggestion, Disney expanded the film into Fantasia, which also featured music by Bach, Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky.

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