10 Songs you didn't know were inspired by classical music
UK composer Alexis Ffrench shares ten pop music hits that are deeply embedded in classical music.
“Little Me” by Little Mix / Pavane by Fauré
The opening thematic idea from Fauré’s Pavane is used as a recurring motif with the Dominant seventh chord in the cadence repeated for extra emphasis. The song has a plaintive quality all of its own and is almost an organic extension of Fauré's theme with punchy vocal syncopations by way of contrast.
“All by Myself” by Eric Carmen / Piano Concerto No. 2 by Rachmaninov
The slow movement from Rachmaninov's renowned piano concerto is cleverly used as the foundation for this iconic hit. Heavily chromatic, contrasted with expansive vocal intervals in the chorus. I remember hearing the Eric Carmen version as a kid sitting in the back of my dad's red escort with the “go faster” stripe. Looking back, I think my dad had aspirations to be in Starsky & Hutch...
“I can” by Nas / “Für Elise” by Beethoven
The theme from “Für Elise” is transposed into F sharp minor to form the musical riff for this rap song by Nas. While it’s not necessarily woven into the fabric of the track, it still forms a striking opener for this rap with a positive message. It’s a really clever use of old meets new.
“BLUE” by Zayn / Cello Suite in C major by Bach
Bach's Cello Suite in C major is vocalised at the start of this track and continues as an arpeggiated G throughout this song accompanied by chordal piano. This provides a unique landscape for Zayn's contemplative vocals.
“Roll Over Beethoven” by Electric Light Orchestra / Symphony No. 5 by Beethoven
A longer passage from Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 (“The Fate”) is kicked irreverently into touch and dispatched in favour of rock ‘n’ roll-flavoured romp with shorter samples from Beethoven's symphony interspersed throughout the track. Great band—not sure if this is my favourite track by them though.
“Annie's Song” by John Denver / Symphony No. 5 by Tchaikovsky
The first five notes of the Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 (A plaintive D, C sharp, B, D, C sharp) form the basis of “Annie's Song” in a gently lilting song that exudes warmth and tenderness. “Annie's Song” is a track I hear around my household a lot—it's one of my wife's favourite songs.
“Because” by The Beatles / Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven
The triadic motif from Beethoven's “Moonlight” Sonata (first movement) forms the basis of this somewhat impressionistic piece that sees The Beatles explore sophisticated harmonies with ever-shifting modulations. I recently watched a fascinating documentary about The Beatles made by Ron Howard. I hadn't realised what an experimental group of composers they were. They were so ahead of their time!
“Could It Be Magic by Barry Manilow / Prelude No. 20 in C minor by Chopin
Chopin's Prelude is cleverly woven into this classic by Barry Manilow which borrows heavily from Chopin's chromaticism. An incredible composer and showman whom I really respect, I'd love to work with him one day.
“Hey Jude” by The Beatles / Arioso by Bach
This best-loved number borrows Bach’s rhythmic motif from the Arioso from Cantata BWV 156, Adagio and weaves a gently cascading melody from a simple but beautiful motif. I've got a lot of memories of this track and remember singing it as a school boy and loving it back then. I still love it today.
“Exit Music for a Film” by Radiohead / Prelude No. 4 in E minor by Chopin
Transposed in B minor, Radiohead take the natural chromaticism and pathos from Chopin's haunting harmonic progression and melody to conjure up this timeless classic. My wife and I would spend every Sunday browsing the record shop in the late 1990s in London where we lived at the time. We would always buy Radiohead albums—such a musical band.
Alexis Ffrench is a UK contemporary pianist and composer. With an impressive 4m streams and 1.4 Spotify listeners per month, Ffrench's success brings classical music to the Spotify generation.
Waterfalls audio: https://open.spotify.com/album/54l8HI9ZEG6DvvwMwaZBJ6
Waterfalls audio: https://youtu.be/favr_05qIo8
Bluebird video: https://youtu.be/gArIvTJdrEc