Classical music and cinema have always fit together. Hit parade songs and famous classical works always go perfectly together to emphasize the ambiance of 7th art masterpieces. Within this melodic melting pot, classical music is one of the most appreciated style. This statement is especially true when it comes to “cartoons”, which were produced during the golden age of the animation studios. Many of these short films were most appreciated in the cinemas, and gave a tribute to the classical European music. With star composers like Scott Bradley for the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Carl Stalling and Mitt Franklyn for the Warner, and Darrell Calker for the Walter Lantz studios, classical music became a universal source of inspiration for cartoon movies and engendered many of the most outstanding animation movie soundtracks. The Disney Silly Symphonies and the Warner Merrie Melodies that they inspired offer musical themes which are for most of us lively memories of our childhood.
Episode #1: Early productions
As an introduction to this topic, here is a 1930 short film showing a Mickey Mouse violin performance of Traumerei by Robert Shumann, a Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 by Franz Liszt, and an extract of the William Tell Overture by Rossini. Like a clumsy virtuoso, he performs an outstanding musical interpretation of three classical works while experiencing many problems with the set. Despite all the hitches, he will go on and complete his performance which ends with an involuntary rock star apotheosis when he breaks his instrument and bow while playing.
The Silly Symphony productions began in August 1929 with a very strange and scary short film, “The Skeleton Dance”. Skeletons and numerous scary nocturne animals like black cats, bats and howls dance in a cemetery on Carl Stalling’s original music and some extracts of Edvard Grieg‘s March of the Dwarfs. Although many thought he was inspired by the Camille Saint Saëns Danse Macabre, Carl Stalling admitted in 1969 that he composed his music from a foxtrot (a smooth and progressive dance very popular in the 1920’s) which he set in minor key. The ambiance is far from the gentle present day cartoons. Did the Silly Symphony anticipate the great depression of October of the same year 1929? Anyway, the famous film director Tim Burton probably watched this kind of cartoon as a kid…