Play That Funky Classical Music White Boy

Raiding the vast (and out of copyright) canon of classical music has been a recurrent theme in popular music, from Frank Sinatra to The Farm to Eric Carmen (though Carmen’s All By Myself was the subject of a neat twist – Rachmaninov’s music was out of copyright in the U.S. but not the rest of the world, so his estate did end up receiving a share of royalties)

From the later 1960s, parallel with the rise of electronic music more generally, a subgenre of funky, synth-y arrangements of classical pieces developed. I’m not totally sure what to call this. The playlist above is intended to draw in a range of artists and approaches. Lamb’s Gorecki and William Orbit’s work are the most recent. I must admit while these seem respectful and true to the original, there is a kind of excess reverence and I rather prefer the more of-their-time versions of the late 60s and 70s.

The most prominent example of this kind of thing is Wendy Carlos’ soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange, not available on Spotify so not on the playlist above. For me, the most characteristic example of this kind of thing is Deodato’s version of opening theme from Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra. Deodato manages to make an already bombastic piece even more bombastic, and also much much longer. The road of excess leads to the palace of … well, something, but probably not wisdom:

As the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack is one of the biggest selling albums of all time, it is reasonable to suppose that the most prominent exposure of the work of Ludwig van Beethoven’s ever was in Walter Murphy’s A Fifth of Beethoven, a disco version of probably the most recognisable bars of music of all time the opening theme of the Fifth Symphony:

Perhaps understandably, pop/electronic musicians seem particularly drawn to reworking the dramatic, impressionistic pieces of late Romanticism. Mussogorsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition is a perfect example, and Isao Tomita’s reworking of the Great Gate of Kiev doesn’t disappoint:

Finally, in case all the above seems a little snarky and sneery, this kind of music does create some genuine magic. I’ll end with Deodato’s version of Ravel’s “Pavane pour une infante defunté”, which takes the already fine original and makes something both respectful and new out of it:

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