5 Subtle Moments of Classical Music in Pop Culture

From Elvis Presley to Aladdin, pop culture is full of (not so obvious) references to classical music. Have you ever had that feeling of having "heard that tune before" but couldn't quite know where? Here is a list you might like.

Mar 28, 2019 • 5 min read


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We often hear famous snippets of classical pieces being played in movies or as part of a pop song. Who doesn't remember Apocalypse Now featuring the “Ride of the Valkyries” from Die Walküre by Wagner? Other examples are 2001: A Space Odyssey playing Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra”; Irreversible playing Beethoven’s 7th Symphony; Dave Matthews Band’s Love of My Life making tribute to Brahms’s 3rd Symphony and the list goes on.

These are all obvious references but there are, however, much more subtle examples that usually pass by without notice. Did that song just plagiarized Rachmaninoff? Is this movie making a homage to Rossini? Or is it just coincidence? If you ever felt that you “have heard that before” when watching a movie or listening to a song, than you are on the right place! Here is a list of 5 moments when classical music "sneak" into pop culture.


1. Celine Dion / Rachmaninoff

This one just has to go first. Celine Dion’s All by myself, a hit that dominated radio and TV in the 90’s, is just too similar to the second movement of Rachmaninoff’s famous Piano Concerto No 2. It is one of those cases where it is too close for being a coincidence, but not close enough for being a homage.





2. My Fair Lady / Brahms

The melody we hear in “Just you wait” from the famous Broadway musical My Fair Lady is just identical to Brahms’ Op 117 3rd movement. While this is clearly much more than just inspiration, there is no obvious dramatic point being made with this reference.





3. Elvis Presley / Martini

This one is quite surprising since it involves such a famous song. Elvis Presley’s Can’t Help Falling in Love is undoubtedly one of the most famous tunes of all times. This tune is very, very similar to a classical French love song written in 1784 by Jean-Paul-Égide Martini. This song was later orchestrated by Berlioz in 1859 and, apparently, in 1961 inspired three song writers to compose a song that would become one of Elvis’ eternal hits.





4. Disney’s Aladdin / Brahms

The resemblance here is very subtle, so much so that this may well be a case of just a coincidence. But still. The main tune in Aladdin sounds suspiciously similar to the main theme of Brahms’ Piano Trio No 1.





5. Star Wars / Chopin

This is a famous one and, if you know Chopin’s Piano Sonata No 2, you probably already noticed. But, since most people have never heard of that piece, this reference is an interesting one. It is subtle, but it is there nonetheless. Chopin's melody is very slow and obscure, while Vader's theme is much more energetic. The dramatic point becomes very clear when we look at Chopin’s title for his sonata: Funeral March. Darth Vader could not have found better place for inspiration!



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