While I was on my blogging break, I missed the 200th anniversary of the birth of Hungarian composer Franz Liszt. You may not think you know who he is, but you’ve heard his work.
I have liked Liszt’s music since I was a kid. My parents had a smallish collection of classical music albums and 8-track tapes and I used to listen to them on the stereo in our basement while wearing my Dad’s very nice headphones. Then, I would turn to face the mirror on the other side of the room and air-conduct to the pieces. I’m pretty sure I memorized three or four Beethoven Symphonies, the Grand Canyon Suite, the William Tell Overture, and a number of other pieces (including a couple of Liszt’s) just from listening to them over and over again.
Most people don’t really get into classical music the way I have over the years but that doesn’t mean they, and you, didn’t get a healthy dose of it through other means. Liszt, who was probably the foremost piano virtuoso of his day, wrote several pieces that worked their way into American popular culture through cartoons. You’ve probably heard his most famous piano piece, the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C-Minor, even though you didn’t know what it was called.
Here is it in an Academy Award-winning Tom and Jerry cartoon called “The Cat Concerto”.
Warner Brothers also released a Bugs Bunny cartoon in the same year that used the same piece called “Rhapsody Rabbit”. Oddly enough, it featured a mouse, too but it didn’t win an Oscar. Not long after, Warner Brothers used an orchestral version of the piece in one of its best non-“character” cartoons called “Rhapsody in Rivets” and Walter Lantz brought it back for a 1956 Woody Woodpecker cartoon called “Convict Concerto”. Warner Brothers and MGM weren’t the first to use Liszt’s Rhapsody, though. Disney used a lot of it (along with a piano piece by Rachmaninoff and the “Habernera” from George Bizet’s opera “Carmen”) in a 1929 Mickey Mouse cartoon called “The Opry House”.
Yep, folks, Liszt was the man and you know more about his music than you thought you did! Isn’t classical music fun?