Recent popular songs referencing classical music

[In this post I am happy and proud to host Erin Mays, a former student of mine and very successful professional in software product management, who has an admirable command of music as a performer, listener, thinker, administrator, even fundraiser.  Given her love for things Greek, I thought I might introduce her reflections with a demo of how to dance … Mozart’s 4oth Symphony.  Below is her post.]

In the years since I took classes with Vassilis at the University of Michigan many (many) years ago, our shared passion for classical music and opera has given us a reason to stay connected, whether it’s disagreeing over Matthew Polenzani’s Werther (he’s a fan, I’m not), comparing notes on the Lyric’s commission of Bel Canto, or geeking out over Joyce DiDonato (as one does). Vassilis has invited me to share my “happy retirement” card to him, inspired by some of the lists he’s posted to this space. It consists of 10 songs in semi-recent popular music that reference classical works (some less obviously than others). While I know the sources need to be there, I think it’s pretty meta to be missing citations in a post about a practice that rarely includes citations. We hope you might help us add to this list by sending in your suggestions of recent songs with classical references.

10. “Lacrymosa” by Evanescence (Requiem by Mozart)

9. “Breathe Me” by Sia (“Metamorphosis One” by Philip Glass)

8. “Little Me” by Little Mix (Pavane by Fauré)

7. “Intergalatic” by the Beastie Boys (they directly sample Night on Bald Mountain by Mussorgsky, with an easter egg of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C# minor within the song itself)

6. “I Belong to You” by Muse (“Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix” from Samson et Dalila by Saint-Saëns)

5. “Alejandro” by Lady Gaga (“Csárdás” by Vittorio Monti)

4. “Love of My Life” by Santana and Dave Matthews (Symphony No. 3, third movement, by Brahms)

3. “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes (Symphony No 5, first movement, by Bruckner)

2. “Exit Music for a Film” by Radiohead (Prelude No. 4 in E minor by Chopin)

1. “Butterflies and Hurricanes” by Muse.  This one might be cheating — I don’t believe Matt Bellamy actually references here, but his cadenza right in the middle of the song is clearly inspired by Rachmaninoff; probably his 2nd Piano Concerto.

There are some terrible examples I chose not to include here… Do not listen to “If I Had Words” by Scott Fitzgerald and Yvonne Keeley if you enjoy Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony. It’s (almost) aptly named – I have no words.

Erin Mays

June 1, 2018

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