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ClassicsOnline Home » JACK-IN-THE-BOX - A Collection of Amusing and Entertaining Works by Classical Composers
Classical music can be fun! Explore a world of frivolity and humour with this outrageously entertaining collection!
A collection of amusing and entertaining works by classical composers
Our collection begins appropriately with a piece associated with the sights and sounds of the circus. Amazingly, Fučik’s Entry of the Gladiators started life as a military march for band written in the early years of the 20th century for the 86th Austro-Hungarian Regiment. The march possibly made the transition from battlefield to circus tent when the regimental band was conscripted for circus duties in between fighting engagements!
John Philip Sousa was perhaps the greatest composer of band music. The listener can easily imagine Circus Galop being played inside the big top as a accompaniment to some animal antics or general clowning around while Liberty Bell, although not having any intrinsic comic attributes, is widely known as the theme to ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’.
Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals is a witty parody on the composer’s fellow musicians and composers and has become a classical favourite all around the world. We hear tortoises dancing Offenbach’s famous ‘Can-Can’ at a fraction of the normal speed and an elephant trampling all over the ‘Sylph’s Dance’ by Berlioz. These are but two of the indignities featured and Antipodean listeners will also enjoy the appearance of Kangaroos—possibly the first (and last) time a European composer has depicted the native Australian marsupial.
Zez Confrey was staying at his grandmother’s house when he was awakened by some strange sounds coming from her old piano. Upon investigation, he discovered her cat walking back and forth over the keyboard. This was inspiration enough for one of the world’s most popular piano miniatures: Kitten on the Keys made the composer famous and sold over a million sheet music copies after it was published in 1921. Confrey’s Wise Cracker Suite, published in 1936, is similarly exuberant—‘Yokel Opus’ paints a picture of a happy country bumpkin; ‘Mighty Lackawanna’ is a portrait of the New York state city while ‘The Sheriff’s Lament’ is a cartoon-like picture of cops and robbers.
The Keystone Cops were familiar comic characters of the silent movie era. Their musical theme was Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca which accompanied their prat-falling antics. For uniquely comic effect we hear it played on a harpsichord.
Satie is best known for his languorous Gymnopédies, a sort of early ambient music, but he also composed a number of upbeat works. Le Piccadilly belongs to a group of pieces intended for the music hall while Jack-in-the-Box was originally created for a pantomime. Satie’s fellow Frenchman Poulenc also composed a number of frivolous and whimsical pieces. Humoresque is one of them!
Gottschalk was mainly preoccupied with piano composition. His miniatures capture the syncopated music of New Orleans and the Caribbean in a style that anticipates ragtime and jazz by half a century. The Banjo will not inspire immediate laughter but its musical comedy should not be underestimated: A lone piano spends most of its time imitating the sound of a plucked and strummed banjo! Tournament Galop is almost insanely witty while the Spanish-inspired Manchega is full of the driving rhythms of the La Mancha county.
Kabelevsky’s The Comedians is taken from music for the play ‘The Inventor and the Comedian’ by the Soviet writer M. Daniel. Ten short entertaining numbers make up the suite, of which the ‘Galop’ is the best known.
Shostakovich’s Jazz Suites draw upon various popular idioms. The Jazz Suite No 1 was the result of a competition in Leningrad whose aim was to elevate jazz from cafe music to a more serious status. Such an ambition does not prevent this suite from being a hugely entertaining concoction. The Jazz Suite No 2 is similarly fun and features saxophones and piano accordion. Tahiti Trot is a whimsical arrangement for orchestra of the song ‘Tea for Two’. This collection includes another witty Russian work, The March from Prokofiev’s comic opera ‘The Love for Three Oranges’.
Leroy Anderson, America’s famous composer of ‘light’ music, is represented here by three marvellously humorous and entertaining pieces—Bugler’s Holiday (featuring three hard working trumpeters who probably need a holiday after playing this taxing music), The Syncopated Clock, and The Typewriter with, appropriately, a prominent part for an actual typewriter, now something of an ‘authentic’ instrument in these days of PCs and word processing!
No one knows for sure if Haydn intended the 2nd movement of his Symphony No 94 to be an ‘alarm clock’ but the big ‘surprise’ some way into the movement has proven itself a very effective way of waking dozing concert audiences. Do not turn the stereo up at the beginning of this track!
Malcolm Arnold wrote his Four Scottish Dances in 1957 and they are full of stylish wit and humour. Listen out for the drunken Scotsman!
The main humorous connection of Alford’s Colonel Bogey March is the fact that it is widely known by schoolboys of all ages as the music that accompanies the song ‘Hitler Has Only One Ball’! Very rude, but feel free to sing-along if you know the words!
In fact, sing-along to all the pieces on this collection. Yes, classical music can be fun!
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JACK-IN-THE-BOX - A Collection of Amusing and Ente...